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Federal government steering millions to South Sound to preserve gophers, artillery ranges

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on July 10, 2013 at 1:12 pm with No Comments »
July 10, 2013 1:12 pm

An environmental preservation effort aimed at keeping endangered species alive while freeing up the Army to use its valuable South Sound training grounds is receiving a $12.6 million boost in funding from the federal government and nonprofit organizations.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord and its surrounding communities were chosen for a pilot project partnering community organizations with the Defense, Interior and Agriculture departments.

They’ll use the money to buy and preserve land outside the base to protect species such as Mazama pocket gophers, Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies and streak-horned larks. It could be used to purchase and set aside land, or to support agricultural easements that allow farmers and ranches to continue using their property.

Lewis-McChord, a military installation since 1917, contains prime habitat for those species in large part because the Army maintained open spaces for training exercises. As the land developed outside the base, the remaining habitat became more important for the threatened species.

The surge in funding should reduce pressure on the Army to scale back training. That’s important because the military is shrinking and civilian and military officials want to demonstrate that Lewis-McChord can serve a vital purpose in the nation’s defense.

The program could be replicated in other military communities around the country.

“This arrangement benefits our service members and is an innovative, efficient use of taxpayer resources,” Defense Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Installations and Environment John Conger said in a news release.

The money builds on a Pentagon announcement last month that said the military would set aside $3.5 million for prairie preservation efforts in Pierce and Thurston counties.

That money is part of the broader project announced today by Conger, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

“Today’s announcement is a win-win for the American people and for the land and wildlife we cherish,” Jewell said in a news release. “We are taking an important step in addressing one of the greatest threats to wildlife in America today, loss of habitat, while helping to ensure the preservation of working landscapes and our military readiness.”

All together, the project will receive:

* About $4.1 million from the Defense Department and the Army.

* $3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

* $1.8 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

* $3.6 million from state and local government sources.

* And, non-cash contributions from other local organization.

“It’s really exciting,” said Hannah Anderson, regional rare species program manage for  the Center for Natural Lands Management Washington program. “It’s a result of longstanding cooperation of all the partners. This is built on the shoulders of years and years and years of people working together.”


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