Resources for the Future: Landscapes as DoD Missionscapes

Resources for the Future: Landscapes as DoD Missionscapes

Several decades ago, environmental scholar and author Barry Commoner remarked on the “interconnectedness of everything.” Yet governing institutions and resource managers, decades after Commoner’s insight, still often operate within bounded jurisdictions using a single-issue lens. The Department of Defense (DOD), juxtaposing this traditional framework against the scope, scale and complexity of its resource management challenges, is eying the benefits of collaboration across landscapes and governing boundaries. Their goal is not simply neighborliness; their goal is better fulfillment of their mission.

Consider the operating context of a 25-county area in eastern North Carolina, an area of farms and forests and Marine installations with operational and training needs that extend over a large area. That landscape is changing as populations expand and drive up development pressures, simultaneously augmenting competition for water, lands and resources. On this changing landscape, community, environmental and military goals collide, compete and intersect, amplifying the imperative of coordination – both to overcome conflict and to find “sweet spots” of shared goals among diverse interests.

Those shared interests, it turns out, are many. Farmers and private-forest owners strive to maintain working rural lands and open spaces that also benefit Marine installations by minimizing the potential of conflicts with populated towns and suburbs. Farmers, foresters and the military all need secure water supplies and fire mitigation; all benefit from sustaining wildlife habitat to avoid restrictions on land use under the Endangered Species Act. Citizens and the military share a strong interest in national security and, hence, protection of current and future training “space” for assuring military effectiveness. Yet pursuing these shared interests is not easy. For the Defense Department, the areas of training needs at various locations often are simply too large to deploy a “buffer” strategy of acquiring land around each military installation. Moreover, important existing economic activities, such as farming and forestry, are tied to those surrounding lands dominated by a patchwork of land ownerships, rendering buffer acquisitions potentially expensive and contentious. Finally, all around defense installations, demographic changes are unfolding; people are spreading into the countryside.

Some installation commanders, assessing this tableau, are crafting landscape-scale strategies implemented through collaborative action. A central goal is to work at a geographic scale commensurate with training needs. In the case of eastern North Carolina that means a 25-county area. Working at this scale requires coordinating action among many jurisdictions and many agencies, and working with many “publics” to develop a shared vision. Success requires long-term and sustained action. And, it requires innovative funding as federal, state and local coffers shrink.




Barry Commoner made his observations about the interconnectedness of everything decades ago. Yet linking the DOD “missionscape” to large landscapes is a recent phenomenon. Why this shift? Why now?

In part, the shift toward landscape-scale strategies results from the growing competition for resources and the increasing awareness that effective resource management requires cross-jurisdictional actions. Nature itself knows no boundaries. Drought in the southeast catapulted Atlanta into the headlines, but securing water supplies for the city involved contemplating actions along three interconnected watersheds that spanned Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Atlanta’s plight was not unique. Management of the Bay-Delta in California, the Platte River and elsewhere across the nation all involve intersecting actions by multiple cities, urban and rural participants, and, sometimes, several states.

Reducing flood risk, controlling stormwater runoff, managing wildland fires and adapting to the effects of climate change – these and other resource issues – all require cross-jurisdictional, large landscape action. Decisions about the siting of both renewable and nonrenewable energy and associated transmission infrastructure, if undertaken without consideration of wildlife corridors, military airspace requirements, water use and other effects, can heighten conflict and yield unintended adverse impacts.

The traditional “inside-the-fence” focus of DOD installation management is increasingly incommensurate with both conservation requirements and DOD operational needs. But shifting to a landscape-scale focus requires coordination, iterative conversations with adjacent communities, ongoing assessment of conditions and adjustment of actions in response to changing information and circumstances, and actions integrated across issue sectors and geography. This coordination, these conversations and these dynamic adjustments all must occur amid what Rebecca Rubin, president of the consulting firm Marstel-Day, calls “forces of fragmentation.” Political jurisdictions and land uses are fragmented. Roles and responsibilities are dispersed among many agencies. As a consequence of fragmented working space, DOD even faces training fragmentation.

In the southeast, DOD and five states have created a Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability to transcend this fragmentation. They are working jointly to sustain military training, enhance economic development, preserve working lands and protect habitat, including long-leaf pine forests. Within this broader partnership, the Marine Corps is developing an Eastern North Carolina Land-Use Strategy (ENCLUS), a 25-county comprehensive plan to preserve farm and forest land located under the Corps’ low-level aviation training routes in eastern North Carolina. The planning effort seeks to meet the Corps’ training and installation resource needs while also protecting migratory pathways of birds, maintaining endangered species habitat and supporting working-lands values of farming and forestry in the region.

Though still a work in progress, the Eastern North Carolina Land-Use Strategy is a model of network governance that mirrors efforts by other public and private collaborative efforts to work across jurisdictional and ownership boundaries.

South of Tucson, for example, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initiated a traditional planning process in the 1990s to create an Empire-Cienegas Resource Conservation Area. Poor planning, lack of public participation and exclusion of private and state trust land stakeholders in the process eventually undermined the planning process.



Citizens, local governments and conservation groups concerned about ecosystem health in the area thought any meaningful restoration effort must include state trust and private lands. They formed the Sonoita Valley Planning Partnership and teamed with the BLM to establish (with Congressional approval) the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA). The partnership then developed a community-based management plan for the NCA, which was embraced by the BLM as the preferred alternative in the Las Cienegas NCA planning document. The Partnership now works with the BLM to implement a shared plan through community-based participation and adaptive, outcome-based management. A special nonprofit organization with a governing board of trustees, including multiple agencies and organizations, oversees implementation of the plan.

Elsewhere, examples of this sort of network governance are also emerging through the Platte River Cooperative Agreement among Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and the Department of the Interior; the Puget Sound Partnership and other initiatives. As DOD explores opportunities to collaborate at a landscape-scale to address critical mission needs, they can learn from the experiences of other agencies. Those experiences reveal three important characteristics of successful landscape-scale networking.

First is the imperative of multi-participant collaboration and “place-tailored” decision-making. In the southeast, for example, a key goal of the Marine Corps is to interconnect four major conservation and working-land holdings that form an arc from west to east that is important for training purposes. The area includes state lands, a university property, a national forest and a national wildlife refuge. Numerous agencies – federal, state and local – have interests in or manage resources in and around this area, along with many organizations and individual landowners. Successful planning requires coordination among these various participants.

Second is the integration of science and decision-making, using collaborative processes of mutual learning. Land and resource management involves often complex and dynamic interconnections. Future conditions are often uncertain. Together, these characteristics demand sophisticated technical and scientific knowledge about such matters as water quality and availability, fire regimes, species behavior and habitat, and a multitude of other factors. Yet decisions regarding land and resource management can affect people, their communities and their livelihoods. Decisions, thus, lie at the intersection of science and community values.

The importance of science and technical expertise raises a conundrum that some have referred to as the “technocracy versus democracy” quandary. How is it possible to increase public involvement in resource management when the scientific and technical issues are often complex? An emerging tool is what some U.S. Geological Survey scientists have called “joint fact-finding” in which scientists, decision makers, and citizens collaborate in the scoping, conduct and use of technical studies to improve decision-making and to build shared knowledge.

© |Tomales Bay, California.

©|Tomales Bay, California.

At Tomales Bay in California, for example, fishers, farmers, wastewater utility managers and others in the community joined together with scientists to better understand the causes of poor water quality, which, in turn, helped them identify improved management tools. The Army Corps of Engineers, assessing the challenges of integrating scientific knowledge with citizen perspectives within a complex and dynamic context, has developed an “enhanced adaptive management” framework. This framework includes scenario planning, engagement of citizens in processes to better understand priorities and preferences, and ongoing monitoring and adaptation to new information.

A third challenge for ventures in landscape-scale networking is funding. These efforts often require innovative funding. The concept of ecosystem services – the idea that natural systems provide benefits to human communities – is gaining increasing traction. Wetlands purify water, thus potentially avoiding the need for communities to invest in costly additional water filtration systems. Floodplains can store water. Trees absorb pollutants and sequester carbon.

A central question is whether and how these “services” can translate into economic opportunities for landowners. In Florida, the state worked with scientists, ranchers and others to explore ways to pay ranchers to store water on their lands rather than shunt it down canals and engage in management practices to reduce farm chemical runoff. The state saw benefits to making payments to ranchers for these “services” rather than investing in additional water storage facilities and expensive water treatment. Drawing upon this concept of ecosystem services, the Eastern North Carolina Land-Use Strategy is exploring possibilities to incorporate “food and fuel” provisions to “buy local,” thereby engaging DOD in helping to sustain and support farms and forestlands that lie within their “arc” of training operations.

As DOD joins other agencies in partnering across landscapes to fulfill its mission, other governance challenges loom. The federal policy toolkit for land, water and wildlife management was not shaped to support large landscape, cross-jurisdictional settings. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), in its implementation, has tended to apply within individual agency boundaries rather than within cross-boundary settings. And NEPA processes are not well-aligned with decision contexts that require adaptive and iterative management choices over time.

Endangered Species Act (ESA) implementation, too, has generally focused on listing and managing individual species rather than applying a broader multi-species, ecosystem focus. Yet both NEPA and ESA implementation are evolving as agencies attempt to shift their management to larger landscape, cross-jurisdictional ecosystems. DOD, for example, has benefitted at Fort Hood from the development by the Fish and Wildlife Service of a “recovery credit” tool that enables Fort Hood commanders to pay adjacent farmers to protect golden-cheeked warbler habitat, thereby giving the installation greater flexibility in the use of its own lands.

Contemplating the evolution, by DOD and other agencies, toward larger landscape, cross-boundary management, one is reminded of the words of Admiral Nimitz, who once opined that “the road is long and filled with potholes.” But perhaps the quip of famed baseball player Yogi Berra is also apt: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”



Photo credit: Joel Trick, USFWS

Photo credit: Joel Trick, USFWS