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Sentinel Landscape Partnership hits home

DoD spends millions to protect species close to JBLM

Western pocket gopher (Thomomys mazama)is being protected outside JBLM's gate. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area National Parks Science and Learning

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The Sentinel Landscape Partnership, a pioneering collaboration among the Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, was created to restore and permanently protect significant habitats for species that are close to being listing under the Endangered Species Act. It is also intended to protect private and agricultural lands from development, and allow for the DoD's training mission to continue.

Recently it was announced that the partnership had chosen the land adjacent to and surrounding Joint Base Lewis-McChord, specially the South Puget Sound prairies, as the pilot area. Since JBLM owns a large amount of land, that has been utilized for training and thus left as open spaces, those areas have become a primary habitat for certain species, which are finding harder to exist in the developed areas outside of the base.

"The Sentinel Landscape Partnership here was grown out of a very strong existing partnership between JBLM and local preservation societies," explained Hannah Anderson, Regional Rare Species Program manager with the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), which is headquartered in Olympia. "CNLM has been working with Fort Lewis for two decades, both on and off the base, as part of the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program."

The ACUB program identifies critical land around installations and allows military facilities to partner with agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to share the cost of acquiring conservation easements from willing landowners. Anderson believes that the South Sound prairies, lying in mostly Thurston County and parts of western Pierce County, were selected as the first Sentinel location due to the strength of the JBLM ACUB.

In total, JBLM, via the DoD and the Army, will contribute $4.1 million to the Sentinel project, which is in addition to $3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $1.8 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and $3.6 million from state and local government sources. Non-cash contributions will also come in from other local organizations, like CNLM and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Monies will go toward buying land outside of the base's gates and then preserving it in order to shield local species like the Mazama pocket gopher, Taylor's checkerspot butterfly and streak-horned lark. Funds can also be utilized for agricultural easements that allow farmers and ranchers to continue working their respective properties.

"The goal is to increase the size and numbers in these particular species," Anderson said. "By expanding these species in the protected prairie areas outside of the base, the DoD can perhaps face less restrictions from the Department of Fish and Wildlife Service because the potential training activities on their land would not be ruining the environment where the majority of a species exists."

The first property protected under the partnership, the Violet Prairie-Scatter Creek Preserve in Tenino, will receive its designation soon, though Anderson clarified that the rest of the properties included under ACUB will also eventually be covered by the partnership.

For more information on these local conservation efforts, visit www.southsoundprairies.org

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