Authors: Sentinel Landscapes Partnership

In an era of increasingly complex threats—both natural and man-made—the definition of national security has evolved to recognize the significance of not only military capability and readiness, but also food security, water security, and environmental security. As a result, land-use challenges that defense, conservation, and agricultural actors once addressed unilaterally—such as land-use conversion or natural resource degradation—now call for more holistic, integrated solutions. To encourage strategic collaboration on these issues, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to form the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership.

Founded in 2013, the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership is a coalition of federal agencies, state and local governments, and non-governmental organizations that works to advance common land-use objectives in high priority areas known as sentinel landscapes. The Partnership’s overarching goals are to strengthen military readiness, bolster agricultural and forestry productivity, conserve natural resources, and increase access to recreation. The Partnership carries out its mission by connecting private landowners around military installations or ranges with government assistance programs that offset the cost of implementing sustainable management practices and conservation projects.

This report outlines the accomplishments of the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership through fiscal year (FY) 2019. Its findings demonstrate that by aligning funding around mutually beneficial land use goals, USDA, DoD, and DOI accomplish more on the ground with fewer resources. Through FY 2019, projects across sentinel landscapes have attracted over $141 million in DoD funds, $223 million in USDA funds, $41 million in DOI funds, $169 million in state funds, $15 million in local funds and $80 million in private funds. These contributions have permanently protected over 467,000 acres of land and enrolled 2.3 million acres of land in technical assistance programs.

Examples of exceptional projects through FY 2019 include: Building Coastal Resilience to Support Military Readiness: Georgia Sentinel Landscape partners advanced priorities outlined in the National Defense Strategy by acquiring a conservation easement on an 11,000-acre parcel adjacent to Naval Submarine Base (NSB) Kings Bay known as Cabin Bluff. Prior to acquisition, the coastal property was zoned for 10,000 homes and 1 million square feet of commercial space. Therefore, permanently protecting Cabin Bluff will prevent incompatible development that would undermine the installation’s ability to deploy nuclear submarines into the Atlantic Theatre. The project will also increase NSB Kings Bay’s resilience to climate change by ensuring that the installation has access to a healthy shoreline. Cabin Bluff encompasses tidal marshes that defend against erosion by absorbing storm surge, flooding, and rising sea levels. Lastly, the project will reduce the likelihood that training restrictions triggered by the Endangered Species Act will encumber NSB Kings Bay’s mission. Cabin Bluff is home to longleaf pine forests that support the gopher tortoise, an at-risk species in Georgia. With proper restoration, this property can contribute to existing efforts made by DoD to ensure that the gopher tortoise can thrive without regulatory protection.

Protecting Ranchlands to Enhance Wildlife Habitat: In September 2019, Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape partners acquired an easement on the last unprotected portion of Rafter T Ranch, a working cattle ranch in Central Florida. Spanning 5,200 acres across the Everglades Watershed, the Rafter T Ranch stitches together a series of conserved properties, creating a natural corridor in Highlands County that will support species including the Florida panther, Florida black bear, and the Florida scrub-jay. Contiguous land protection at this scale will also preclude development that may disrupt Avon Park Air Force Range’s ability to effectively use its low-altitude airspace, which is necessary for the installation to carry out its national defense mission.

Strengthening Water Security in Southern Arizona: Fort Huachuca Sentinel Landscape partners enhanced water security in southern Arizona by conserving groundwater for the San Pedro River, a 141-mile waterway that supports a vibrant ecosystem, local human populations, and the U.S. Army’s Fort Huachuca. For years, rapid development in the region has increased demand for water, leaving portions of the San Pedro dry. In response, sentinel landscape partners mobilized to acquire conservation easements on 6,000 acres of land along 25 miles of the desert river, which has avoided 1 billion gallons of potential groundwater pumping per year. The partners have also facilitated replenishment projects—such as the Palominas Stormwater Recharge and Flood Control Project— that capture an additional 1 billion gallons of stormwater and effluent annually and funnel it to an underground aquifer that feeds the San Pedro River.

Increasing Access to Recreation: Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape partners increased public access to outdoor recreation in central Florida by permanently protecting 4,000 acres of the Triple Diamond Ranch. Situated in the heart of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, the property joins a contiguous network of 200,000 acres of conserved land. The Triple Diamond Ranch will provide exceptional recreational opportunities, while also enhancing water quality for the immediate area and downstream into the country’s largest subtropical wetland. The property provides natural filtration for water that flows directly into the Kissimmee River, feeding Lake Okeechobee and, ultimately, the Everglades.

Increasing Accessibility to Landowner Assistance Programs: The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership increased accessibility to government assistance programs that benefit private landowners by launching a new Interactive Landowner Resources Tool. The tool provides a single online source where landowners can find available benefits, assess their eligibility, and determine the necessary steps to pursue enrollment in the programs. Modeled after a standard e-commerce site, the tool aggregates data on over 300 landowner assistance programs and allows users to filter results by category, benefit type, and location.