Q and A With Nancy Natoli: March 2010

Main Story

Soldiers getting off a helicopter

State Legislatures talked with Nancy Natoli from the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment about land use and military installations.

State Legislatures: Why is sustainability important to the military?

Nancy Natoli: Sustainability is inextricably linked to national security because it ensures that the military services can train and test to be prepared for the mission both today and tomorrow. We sustain our land, air and sea spaces to protect our communities, the national economy and our national security.

SL: Is this a new way of doing business for the military?

Natoli: Military installations have always tried to be good neighbors with their surrounding communities, which are also where our service members and civilians live, go to school, shop and recreate. Inside our fencelines and on our ranges, we maintain natural environments to provide training realism. These natural areas also provide habitat and protection for more than 350 endangered species. In the last two decades, we have seen the importance of landscape-level ecology and regional planning to support collaborative communication and cooperation with neighboring landowners and city and state officials. For nearly 10 years, the Sustainable Ranges Initiative has been building partnerships and developing tools and solutions such as the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI) buffer program to support sustainable initiatives at our installations and ranges.

SL: Can you give some examples of encroachment on installations and the impacts you’ve seen?

Natoli: Population growth around many of our installations is greater than the national average at the same time that our weapon systems and training spaces are getting larger which creates additional challenges to address potential incompatibilities between military activities and nearby land uses. Some installations have instituted voluntary restrictions on their activities to limit noise impacts in the community. Parachute training was discontinued at a drop zone at Fort Bragg, North Carolina when a subdivision was built just up to the boundary. Naval aviators at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia must observe strict requirements for afterburner use during takeoff. Ambient light from nearby development restricts flying operations at night affecting training realism. In the California Mojave Desert, spotty and unregulated development limit low-level and supersonic flight operations for the Navy and Air Force.

Also in California, the Marine Corps did a comprehensive study several years ago at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton on the southern California coast and found a 32 percent degradation in some training tasks due to encroachments, primarily based on natural resources constraints. In some cases, military commanders create “workarounds” or other ways to still accomplish complete readiness and be prepared for the mission, but these are inefficient, cost more and are not ideal scenarios. When these conflicts can be anticipated, REPI partnerships help to avoid or limit these restrictions, and in many cases, REPI partnerships are used to successfully reduce or completely remove the restrictions through the protection of private properties.

SL: How does this sustainability help with the overall mission troop readiness?

Natoli: Sustainable installations and ranges provide the best platforms for realistic training and testing which are the cornerstones of readiness. Sustainable ranges provide the most resiliency and flexibility to meet ever-changing mission requirements. DoD is committed to identify and explore innovative opportunities to work cooperatively with state and local agencies, non-governmental organizations and private landowners to find sustainable solutions that provide mutual benefits.

SL: Do you have a favorite “success story” of a military/community partnership?

Natoli: Every partnership produces varying benefits and results, so it’s difficult to cite just one. Several Marine Corps installations, for example, participate in Conservation Forums with the community and conservation organizations to work towards common land and resource protection objectives. The conservation forums are usually held at community locations and are chaired by a non-military organization, to emphasize that all are coming together towards common objectives and no organization has more authority or influence than another. One of the most long-standing of these groups is the Onslow Bight Conservation Forum in North Carolina that includes more than a dozen organizations in regional collaboration across nine counties on the Atlantic coastal plain. This forum has led to the protection of critical buffer areas for Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, while also achieving conservation benefits sought by partner organizations.

At Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Florida, a partnership between the Navy, the State, The Nature Conservancy and Santa Rosa County has protected 2,000 acres to preclude future encroachment. This includes 1,400 acres of conservation land added to the Blackwater River State Forest. Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada has a creative partnership with the surrounding county, which enacted a Transfer of Development Rights program to preserve agricultural uses in the vicinity of NAS Fallon and allow development rights to be sold to areas targeted for growth. The Transfer of Development Rights program is considered a cooperative economic and conservation program, because it supports agriculture and defense, which together are 2/3rds of the regional economy. Finally, a partnership at Fort Bragg with The Nature Conservancy and the State of North Carolina has protected more than 15,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat, which has allowed significant increases in training utilization of land on Fort Bragg.

SL: What kinds of non-government organizations have helped achieve sustainability?

Natoli: There are more than three dozen non-governmental organizations in formal partnerships with military installations to promote conservation, compatible land uses and sustainability. These range from the large, national organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land and The Conservation Fund, to regional and local land trusts such as Land Legacy in Oklahoma, the Beaufort County Open Land Trust in South Carolina, the Nevada Land Conservancy and the Prince William Conservation Alliance in Virginia. Many other organizations also work collaboratively with DoD’s Sustainable Ranges Initiative to promote sustainability, such as the National Conference of State Legislators, National Association of Counties and the Land Trust Alliance. These partnerships provide invaluable support and assistance to the Department of Defense in sustaining mission, community and environment.

SL: Are most communities positive about working with the military?

Natoli: Most communities are supportive of the local installation as an economic engine and of the individual soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen assigned to the location. As we continue to form more partnerships through REPI and other programs, communities learn more about the local military mission, and the military learns more about community needs and priorities. Many communities and landowners have received multiple benefits from working with the military and are increasingly willing to share their successes stories with others. In fact, in a 2007 report on the REPI program, RAND Corporation found that “all buffering activities we studied have helped improve community relations and working partnerships. These benefits not only help the buffering and environmental programs, but also improve the installation’s reputation within the community. “

SL: What’s the role for legislatures/legislators in the sustainability movement?

Natoli: As a community leader, a state legislator is in a key position to lead and influence public opinion. Encouraging and facilitating open dialogue and factual discussions between the communities and the military helps provide an effective foundation for partnerships and collaborative conservation that will become increasingly important as we work together to manage future growth and the challenges associated with that growth.