$80 million from Land and Water Conservation Fund and matching Defense funds will enhance outdoor access, protect at-risk species near military bases
Date: Tuesday, March 21, 2023
WASHINGTON — The Departments of the Interior and Defense today announced a new partnership and $80 million in investments to preserve land around military installations and improve access to outdoor recreation for millions of Americans. The announcement comes as the Biden-Harris administration convenes Tribal leaders, elected officials and conservation advocates for the White House Conservation in Action Summit, which will highlight the Biden-Harris administration’s historic investments to advance conservation, restoration, and stewardship efforts and access to nature in communities nationwide.
Through the new Readiness and Recreation Initiative, the Interior Department’s National Park Service will provide approximately $40 million in funding from unobligated balances in the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LCWF) and matching $40 million funds from the Defense Department’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program (REPI). The REPI Program secures land adjacent to military bases to serve as buffers to development, enhance recreational access, protect at-risk species, and improve resistance to impacts from climate change and severe weather events. Congress provided REPI funding with authority to be used as a nonfederal cost share match, allowing states and local governments to leverage these dollars to meet the required 50 percent match for LWCF formula grants.
“America treasures its public lands – and the Interior Department is committed to preserving our outdoor spaces and enhancing equitable access wherever we can,” said Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz. “This collaboration with the Defense Department is a natural partnership – one that will encourage planning and coordination across local, state and federal agencies to preserve natural areas that increase outdoor recreational opportunities, sustain native wildlife and habitats, and guard against climate impacts and severe weather events such as wildfire and flooding.”
“This unique partnership serves as a valuable opportunity for DOI and DOD to collaboratively support projects that create and protect recreation opportunities, safeguard natural areas, and sustain critical military mission capabilities,” said Brendan Owens, Department of Defense Assistant Secretary of Defense, Energy, Installations and Environment. “Through LWCF, these grants will allow DOD’s REPI Program to support on-the-ground partners to fund projects that enhance access to conserved land for local communities and military families, while ensuring the resilience of our military installations and ranges across the country.”
The Departments will work with states to identify and support eligible REPI projects that will provide appropriate public outdoor recreational opportunities without compromising military operations, and states will apply for funding through a competitive process. Funding could support projects on private, state, or local lands.
Urbanization and land development adjacent to military bases can disrupt the ability to access testing and training lands, critical airspace, or offshore training areas and, as a result, may reduce the ability to conduct realistic operations that safeguard mission capabilities. It also decreases the amount of undisturbed, natural landscapes which increases possible impacts from climate impacts. Installation resources, personnel, testing activities and training exercises are vulnerable to climate-related hazards, such as drought, heat, wildfire, thawing permafrost, and coastal and riverine flooding, which can damage installation infrastructure, cause testing and training delays, and threaten public safety. Similarly, extreme weather events, which may be exacerbated by climate change, can lead to water shortages from prolonged droughts, decaying infrastructure and erosion from coastal or river flooding, and conditions from wildfires and high heat days that make testing and training unsustainable.
Under the REPI Program, Military Services enter into cost-sharing agreements with state and local governments and conservation organizations to acquire land in fee or under easement, in order to prevent residential and commercial development around bases that could impact operational capabilities. Through Fiscal Year 2022, the program has leveraged $1.24 billion in Defense funding with over $1.13 billion in partner contributions —nearly a 1:1 match— to protect more than 1.18 million acres of land. There are currently 120 active REPI partnerships across 35 states and territories. More information about the grant process is provided on grants.gov.
The LWCF was established by Congress in 1964, and permanently funded by the 2020 Great American Outdoors Act. It has provided more than $5 billion in matching grants for projects in every state and territory to safeguard natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and provide recreation opportunities for the public. Congress has given the Secretary of the Interior the authority to reapportion, on the basis of need, LWCF formula grant funds that states have not obligated within three years and has recently requested a plan for reapportioning those funds.
Since 2013, the Interior and Defense Departments have also participated in the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, a coalition of federal agencies, state and local governments, and nongovernmental organizations that work to advance mutually beneficial land-use goals in project areas known as sentinel landscapes. The partnership’s mission is to strengthen military readiness, conserve natural resources, bolster agricultural and forestry economies, increase public access to recreation, and enhance resilience to climate change. Through Fiscal Year 2021, projects across sentinel landscapes have attracted roughly $197 million in Defense funds and $70 million in Interior funds, as well as $307 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture funds, $324 million in state funds, $21 million in local funds, and $135 million in private funds. In total, these contributions have permanently protected nearly 610,000 acres of land and enrolled over 3.1 million acres of land in technical assistance programs.