The Army has a tremendous obligation to steward the land and important natural resources under its control. Combat-ready forces depend on our successful stewardship of the environmental asset that create optimal training and testing environments. This is not without its challenges. The goal of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the recovery of threatened and endangered species listed under the ESA and the ecosystems on which they depend. Federal agencies are required to conserve threatened and endangered species through a process of consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The Department of Defense (DoD) has a greater density of threatened and endangered species than any other Federal agency, and the Army has the greatest density of endangered species in the DoD, with more endangered species than all of the other military services combined. Currently, 85% of all Army installations have threatened and endangered species present, 126 Army installations contain 254 threatened and endangered species. Two million acres of Army training and testing lands have training restrictions related to threatened or endangered species and the requirements of the ESA.
Endangered species habitat is an apex natural landscape for military training since it offers the best realistic training landscapes and conditions. Considering this situation, it may come as a surprise that the Army has managed threatened and endangered species in a manner that has effectively balanced the warfighting readiness mission and ESA mandates for species protection. In fact, the Army has played a major role recovering a number of endangered species, bringing them back from the brink of extinction. Army training ranges have become some of the last best habitat for endangered species. As cities and suburbs have developed and spread around Army installations, the requirements for training realism has in fact preserved rare natural landscapes and endangered species habitat on Army installations that have otherwise been destroyed by urban and suburban development activities. Endangered species have actually become part of Army training scenarios; where possible soldiers treat them as they would hospitals, schools, or religious sites on a battlefield; as things that cannot be damaged or destroyed during conflict.
Photo: Black-capped vireo with leg bands giving individual identity to help biologists define his territory. The species was delisted in 2018 due in large part to Fort Hood’s expansive population estimated to be over 7,000. Photo credit Gil Eckrich.