Washington, DC–As its natural resource needs grow, the military’s capacity to protect wildlife is shrinking, according to the first national survey of civilian specialists working on military bases across the U.S. A drive to contract out naturalist positions, staff shortages and a hostile or indifferent uniformed command structure all contribute to mounting problems, according to the biologists, botanists, archaeologists and other civilian resource specialists who responded to the survey released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Since more than 90% of the approximately 25 million acres controlled by the Department of Defense within the domestic U.S. for training grounds, bombing ranges and weapons storage is maintained as undeveloped buffer, the military has a little publicized but critical role in wildlife protection. Because these buffers have remained untouched for decades, “Defense Lands” contain the highest number of federally protected species per acre of any other public lands.
Against this backdrop, more than four out of five civilian specialists report that the natural resource challenges on their bases, ranging from invasions of exotic plants to development and recreation pressures, are on the rise. Of particular concern, however, are plans by the military to replace civilian staff specialists with outside contractors. As two of the more than 100 respondents commented:
“Contracted natural resource people will be less likely to confront resource problems. If these positions are not governmental, then it is much easier to disregard their findings or just hire another contractor.”
“Contractor motive is profit and obtaining the next contract. Natural resource management is a long-term commitment. Contractors do everything for short-term results.”
Compounding this threat is the unwillingness of base commanders to value the natural resources within their custody:
* Nearly a third of all respondents report they “have been directed to overlook resource violations or circumvent resource laws and regulations” while only one fourth believe that “violations of resource regulations create negative career consequences for responsible officers;”
* Less than half of specialists feel that resource protection “is a high priority with the current installation command;” and
* Half cite frequent changes of command as disrupting the base’s resource protection efforts.
One civilian specialist described the prevailing attitude of the officer corps as “apparent disrespect for DoD and other regulations and laws related to habitat and wildlife protection… Keeping the ‘grass well mowed’ is always more important the any consideration of wildlife that may reside in the grass and depend upon it for survival.” Another supplied an example: “Another equally challenging problem is our BASH (Bird Airstrike Hazards Around Airfields) paranoia. If allowable, our command would eliminate all birds from our state.”
“Too often, military commanders regard laws protecting natural resources as a nuisance,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “These important environmental responsibilities will suffer if they are handed over to private contractors whose only mandate is to keep the ‘customer’ satisfied.”
Contact: Jessica V. Revere (202) 265-7337