By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 21, 2013 – Military lands serve a critical role in protecting the nation and the nation’s natural resources, the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for environment and installations said here today.
At a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife, oceans and insular affairs to discuss proposed bills to reauthorize and amend the Sikes Act, John Conger said the act serves as the cornerstone of the Defense Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Program.
Because public access to military lands often is restricted, they contain some of the nation’s most significant remaining large tracts of undisturbed natural habitats, he said.
More than 520 species at risk live on the 28 million acres covered by the act, Conger said. “A surprising number of these species are … found nowhere else in the world,” he noted.
First enacted in 1960, the act ensures that sensitive ecosystems on military installations are protected while still allowing the services to use military lands according to their operational needs. “This is an invaluable tool for us,” Conger said. “It has protected our mission in a myriad of different ways.”
The proposed bills would extend the act through fiscal year 2019 and amend it to expand the cases in which federal and state matching funds could be used for conservation efforts. The amendment would give the department more flexibility and foster additional interdepartmental cooperation, Conger said.
The act is a conservation success story, Stephen D. Guertin, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in his testimony. Under the act, joint DOD, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state conservation efforts have restored habitats and reduced threats to animal and plant life on military bases, he said.
A 1997 amendment required DOD to complete integrated natural resources management plans, to be reviewed annually, at about 380 military installations in the United States. The plans are prepared in cooperation with the federal and state fish and wildlife agencies, and reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies every five years. The arrangement allows DOD to capitalize on the expertise of its statutory partners, Guertin said.
“The evolving benefit of the bill is clear,” Conger said. “One of the key successes of the Sikes Act is that it supports and strengthens our partnerships.”