Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands: A Guide for Natural Resource Managers 3rd Edition

Biodiversity management for hunting and fishing, and recreational land uses

The provision of leisure and recreational activities is one of the most valued land uses in an installation’s mixed-use inventory, and biodiversity frequently plays a key role. The aesthetic qualities of an area are often tied to its range of biological diversity. People value biologically diverse areas for a variety of active (hunting, fishing, swimming, cycling, hiking) and passive (photography, bird watching, contemplation) recreational pursuits.

Recreation has its impacts on biodiversity and many of these impacts have been described in detail (Liddle 1997; Newsome, Moore, & Dowling, 2002). The most prevalent impact process is trampling, which damages and kills plants, displaces soil organic horizons, and compacts mineral soils. Off-road vehicles, horse traffic, bikers, and hikers can damage fragile soils and introduce invasive species. These immediate, direct trampling effects, in turn, have additional longer lasting and cascading effects (Liddle 1997). In addition to trampling, substantial environmental effects are caused by such activities as firewood collection and campfire building, trail construction and maintenance, human intrusion into wildlife habitat, and the use of off-road vehicles.

In the field of recreation ecology, a primary conclusion is that impacts to biodiversity are an inevitable byproduct of recreation. Avoiding impacts is not an option, unless all recreational use is curtailed (Cole 2004). Managers must make decisions about appropriate levels of impact and implement management strategies that keep impacts to within their pre-determined acceptable levels. Biodiversity impacts from recreational pursuits can occur rapidly but may recover slowly. This effectively challenges management strategies based on periodically allowing sites to rest and demonstrates the importance of proactive management—avoiding impacts instead of repairing them. It also explains the common finding that impacts proliferate over time unless the sites can rest. The proliferation of impacts at new sites is usually more problematic than the deterioration of established sites (Cole 2004).

Hunting and fishing are an integral part of recreational activities on many military installations for both military personnel and the general public. When managed astutely, hunting can provide selective and area-sensitive wildlife management and be regarded as a service to farmers. However, in the United States, in some instances over-hunting has been responsible for the local extinctions of some wildlife species.

Resource managers should consider the following biodiversity management recommendations when planning for hunting and fishing, and other recreation opportunities:

  • Ensure biodiversity management is integral to recreation planning and management.
  • Provide educational materials and/or workshops for target audiences to raise awareness of biodiversity.
  • Strengthen wildlife management policies and practices to minimize impacts on biodiversity objectives.
  • Encourage low impact recreation areas such as primitive campsites.
  • Implement site-specific habitat and species plans.

Special natural areas

Areas on DoD installations with natural resources that warrant special conservation efforts may be designated as special natural areas (DoDI1996). These are recognized for their unique or exceptional natural resources or cultural qualities and attributes. In most cases management is directed at preservation and/or protection of the area with very specific management objectives. However, special natural area designations on military lands cannot be set aside as permanent environmental preserves due to DoD’s requirement to maintain flexibility to adapt the defense mission to political and technological developments (DoD Inst. 4715.3, para. F.1.i(4)). Even though an installation is precluded from establishing permanent environmental preserves, these special natural areas can make a significant contribution to conservation of regionally important natural resources.

Conflicting management objectives and threats to the ecological integrity of the habitat such as invasive species and encroachment can directly impact the biodiversity of the special natural areas. Developing biodiversity management and invasive species management plans will complement management measures specific to these special natural areas and can be incorporated in the installation’s INRMP. Similarly, damage to cultural resources should be avoided through development of strategic planning which is incorporated into the installation Integrated Cultural Resources Management Plan (ICRMP). And both the INRMP and ICRMP should be reviewed and integrated to ensure that management of these resource categories is at best, beneficial, and at least not damaging.

Box 11.3: A special natural area

Fort Belvoir, Virginia, has designated three special natural areas: the 1,360-acre Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge; the Accotink Creek riparian area; and part of the upland plateau of the South Post training area. The primary management goal for these significant natural areas is conservation and biodiversity. Low-intensity military training and testing, as well as low-intensity recreation, environmental education, scientific research and study can be conducted within the special natural areas if access and use are compatible with resource conservation.

Figure 11.1. Aerial view of the Accotink Creek
Figure 11.1. Aerial view of the Accotink Creek

Military training and testing lands

The DoD is emphasizing the concept of Sustainable Operations at military training lands and ranges as an essential factor in maintaining mission readiness. Sustainable operations represent the capacity to conduct operations in a manner that preserves the resources that are necessary to conduct successful mission operations indefinitely into the future. The resources include human, natural, and man-made resources including facilities, equipment, financial and community support.

Military operations may not always be compatible with biodiversity conservation. In these instances, mitigation should be pursued with impact minimization as the goal.

Box 11.4: Mitigation or enhancement

Options for mitigation enhancement include:

• avoiding or limiting the threatening activity
• changing the timing of and/or activities involved
• applying measures that protect native biodiversity assets, such as establishing buffers or fencing
• undertaking activities that result in net gains for native biodiversity, such as replanting, removing invasive species, or implementing biodiversity protection measures

In addition to mitigating activities that harm biodiversity, the resource manager should consider creating and/or restoring landscape components that are critical to species most at risk and that contribute to regional biodiversity. Another strategy for reducing habitat and wildlife damage that does not constrain training is to expand the environmental awareness and education programs for military personnel. Properly designed and implemented inventory and monitoring programs should also be important components of biodiversity conservation for training installations. Biodiversity conservation can be as simple as allowing fires to burn on a range, and this may, in turn, help maintain natural vegetation and native habitat. And the resulting vegetation may provide a more realistic setting for training.

Next Page: Literature Cited


Dorothy M. Gibb,, Technical Director
A.H. Environmental Consultants

Joseph S. Ferris, Principal Environmental Consultant
Parsons Brinckerhoff

Balancing Biodiversity Conservation with Multiple Uses

Balancing Biodiversity Conservation with Multiple Uses

Strategic planning for biodiversity management

Biodiversity management for agriculture outleases for range and crop lands

Biodiversity management for hunting and fishing, and recreational land uses

Literature Cited

Chapter 11 – Full Index