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Federal agencies pool money to keep buffer around military base

Spc. Reese Von Rogatsz
U.S. Army, 2012

Urban development around military bases in the Northwest and across the nation is creating a headache for the U.S. Department of Defense.

As a result, several federal agencies on Wednesday announced they will pool money to preserve buffer lands, starting with Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma.

Federal and state funds will be used to buy conservation easements or buy property outright to prevent development on more than 2,600 acres of farmland and prairie. The land is in Thurston County near JBLM.

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense John Conger says preserving habitat off-base reduces pressure to restrict military training exercises on-base.

“It's an increasingly thorny problem as development comes closer and closer to bases that were once remote and endangered species take refuge on the only lands that can't be developed—the military installation itself,” Conger said.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says if this cooperative template works out at Lewis-McChord, it could later be expanded to other base environment in eastern Washington and California, for example.

The $12.6 million budget for the first so-called "Sentinel Landscapes" partnership comes from the Defense Department, USDA, U.S. Department of the Interior, several state agencies, Thurston County and the nonprofit Center for Natural Lands Management. 

The nonprofit group’s program manager Hannah Anderson says previous federal grants for South Puget Sound prairie conservation got the ball rolling a while ago.

"The Sentinel Landscapes designation is really built on the shoulders of years and years of cooperation by multiple partners," Anderson said. She said conservation easements will be acquired from "willing sellers," many of which have already been identified.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.