Addressing Sprawl Issues and Protecting Biodiversity Can Benefit Military Bases, RAND Study Finds

For Release

June 28, 2007

The Defense Department's program to provide land buffers near its bases has been effective in relieving military training and testing operations from encroachment pressures, but the program's funding and activities should be accelerated before land development hinders future buffering opportunities, according to a RAND Corporation report issued today.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense asked the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, to assess the effectiveness of the department's Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI) and recommend ways to improve the program.

Started in 2003, REPI was created to assist military bases, which perform operations such as exercise and testing, with “encroachment” issues that threaten their overall readiness, training, and testing capabilities. Encroachment refers to factors such as suburban sprawl, complaints of noise and air pollution, threatened and endangered species, competition for air space and radio frequency, and water quality and supply.

“As a whole, the Defense Department's attempts to remedy this problem have proved beneficial to the military, the environment, and the overall quality of life of these communities,” said Beth Lachman, a RAND research analyst and the lead author of the report. “However, more can and should be done in terms of funding and planning to expedite the process before the opportunity to buffer these surrounding lands is lost.”

RAND researchers surveyed military staff, state and local governments, conservation organizations and other groups involved in buffering projects at six military bases in the United States. These bases include Eglin Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Whiting Field (Florida); Fort Carson (Colorado); Fort Stewart (Georgia); Marine Corps Air Station (Beaufort, S.C.); and the Naval Air Station Fallon (Nevada).

The report finds that sprawl and loss of biodiversity are the two fundamental causes of most encroachment problems, which occur as housing and other developments are built near military bases. The proximity of this growth can prompt complaints from residents and lead to constraints on testing and training operations at nearby bases. Additionally, the loss of biodiversity can result in threatened or endangered species, which, if present on a military base, can restrict certain training or testing operations.

REPI allows military departments to partner with state and local government agencies and non-governmental organizations, like conservation groups, to establish buffer areas near training and testing areas.

Buffering partners can share the costs of acquiring property interests from willing sellers or participate in land easements, where current property owners keep the land but sell the development rights to a buffering partner. In turn, the buffered land protects the community's ecosystem and nearby training bases from business and residential development effects.

Considered a “biodiversity hot spot,” Florida's Eglin Air Force Base is home to 64 threatened and endangered species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker and the leatherback sea turtle.

Lachman said that Eglin's strategic collaboration with the Florida state government, The Nature Conservancy, and other organizations is helping to prevent encroachment and to protect the state's unique biodiversity.

In the case of Fort Carson, protection of rare plant species located on the base helps to prevent restrictions on training operations. Additional buffering projects also help protect the base's nighttime air and ground training from light interference by keeping open space between the training areas and nearby developments.

According to the RAND report, REPI has also affected the quality of life around Fort Carson by protecting large open spaces. Similarly, buffering projects such as the ones near Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada can also help preserve the local agricultural way of life.

Titled “The Thin Green Line: An Assessment of DoD's Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative to Buffer Installation Encroachment,” the RAND report also says that:

  • REPI could easily use $150 million per year to address encroachment, along with more manpower, policy guidance and logistical support to buffer land around military bases.
  • Congress and the Defense Department should work more with state and local governments to support the funding of land conservation that benefits military installation buffering.
  • Community outreach between military bases and their neighbors are more effective with at least one full-time staff member who works on encroachment issues. Outreach efforts include establishing relationships with local landowners and nonprofit organizations, as well as educating military staff and nearby residents about the benefits of buffering.
  • The Defense Department also needs to work more with other federal agencies to protect biodiversity on their lands so that military installations do not become the remaining federal islands of biodiversity protection.

The report notes, however, that “it is too soon to tell if such efforts will prevent significant encroachment problems or at what total cost.”

“The key to combating this issue is speed,” Lachman said. “A number of these bases don't have the immediate funding or partnerships to compete with development pressures and buffer additional land, which in the long-term would save them money due to increases in property values over time.”

For example, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina has a strategic and strong partnership with Beaufort County to conserve land near the installation. However, because of the success of the nearby Hilton Head resort and the increasing number of retirees settling in Beaufort County, development pressures are strong, land prices have increased, and there is a need to buffer soon before encroachment becomes a significant constraint on the base.

“In many cases, the clock is ticking,” Lachman said. “Once the opportunity to purchase undeveloped land has passed, it will be very difficult and expensive to buffer these bases.”

Other report authors include Anny Wong and Susan Resetar of RAND. The report is available on the RAND Web site at

Support for this study was provided by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division.

The RAND National Security Research Division conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combat Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps and the U.S. Intelligence Community.

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