Desert’s federal lands key to future military operations

In the California Desert region, military missions and environmental health are intertwined

Washington D.C. (June 12, 2017) — The important role of federal lands and their contribution to U.S. military operations was the topic of a meeting at the Pentagon today, where conservationists and retired military leaders met with government officials to discuss a new report on mission viability in the California desert.

Released today by the Sonoran Institute after a year of research and stakeholder engagement, the report, titled, “Evaluating Encroachment Pressures on the Military Mission in the California Desert Region,” provides a framework to local communities, conservation organizations, and military interests on how to ensure the enduring viability of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (China Lake), Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, Edwards Air Force Base, Fort Irwin National Training Center, and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (29 Palms). The California Desert Region ranges from Death Valley to the Mexico border.

Sonoran Institute officials hope the report’s findings will guide decision-making within and around military facilities, especially in the West, where new demands on lands that used to be remote could constrain military operations. Encroachment from solar and wind energy sites, mining, outdoor recreation, conventional land development and even threats to endangered wildlife species on federal lands all have the potential to challenge U.S. and local governments’ multi-billion annual benefit from military activities in the California Desert Region, experts say.

Nearly 80 percent of military operations in this region occur over federally owned lands. As such, it is imperative that military officials and appropriate management agencies successfully balance competing demands to ensure both the natural resources and the U.S. military operations endure.

For example, in the past two decades, the Department of Defense has spent close to $200 million to protect sensitive wildlife on its bases while maintaining or enhancing battlefield realism. Such measures are necessary to ensure federal endangered species regulations do not unduly compromise the military mission.

The U.S. military has spent $10 million since 2002 through the Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Integration (REPI) Program to acquire about 11,000 acres of high quality land for conservation purposes. These investments ensure habitat connectivity, reduce the likelihood of incompatible urban development, and safeguard important species like the threatened Mojave tortoise —all efforts to reduce the threats of compounding encroachment on the military mission.

“Since the Sikes Act of 1960, military facilities have been increasingly aware of the importance of good stewardship of natural resources as a component of their defense mission,” says Ian Dowdy, the report’s principle author and Director of the Sun Corridor Program at the Sonoran Institute. “This report confirms the fact that military missions are more effective in healthier natural landscapes.”

“Military land managers must look beyond their borders to ensure that their operations maintain long-term viability,” says retired U.S. Army General Paul Eaton. “This report reinforces the importance of a regional landscape-scale stewardship approach to natural resource protection and its value to our military operations.”

The report centers on an analysis of dozens of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) layers that depict foreseeable development activities in the region. By overlaying mining, urban development, renewable energy projects, energy transmission, and recreation concentration onto a map of military airspace and environmental assets, Sonoran Institute was able to clearly identify areas of direct and indirect conflict with the military mission.

The report finds that for decades the military has been strengthening its natural resource acumen in order to be more effective at preserving the long-term viability of installations. Sonoran Institute hopes that the report will facilitate better integration of activities across the region with other facilities, land managers, and with the conservation community.

A series of forums will be held in the region on June 28-29 to share report outcomes and provide planners and local decision-makers with tools to ensure long-term success.


Ian Dowdy, Sonoran Institute, 602-393-4310 x308,