Military mission in desert depends on protected public lands

 ·  Paul Eaton, Maj. General, Ret., Victorville Daily Press   ·   Link to Article

Report: In the California Desert region, military missions and environmental health are intertwined:

In the California Desert, the military is a part of the region’s way of life. This area is home to five military installations of more than 300,000 acres each, including Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, and tens of thousands of service members.

This area is also defined by public lands. The California Desert is known the world over for its vast landscapes. From Joshua Tree National Park to Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow National Monuments, these public lands make the region a great place to live and contribute to the economy.

Interestingly, these two defining features of the region — the military and our public lands — are intertwined. Undeveloped public lands provide a necessary buffer for the military against urban and renewable energy development, mining, energy corridors, and other activities. These lands also ensure that wildlife have sufficient habitat and people have places to recreate outside of and away from the installations. The military needs protected public lands in the California Desert in order to be able to fulfill their mission.

As a veteran and former Commander of the Army’s Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Georgia, I understand the clear nexus between the military and public lands. I also participated in unit and senior officer training at the Army’s extraordinary National Training Center in the Desert and saw the importance of both the region’s military operations and protected public lands firsthand.

A report from the Sonoran Institute, a nonpartisan research institution, examines this relationship and identifies various demands on public lands that have the potential to constrain military operations. Representatives of the military bases in the Desert participated in the process to develop the report. The findings were presented at the Pentagon and offer a framework for how to ensure the viability of the military installations in the region.

The report highlights many challenges that the military contends with — from the growth of cities to wind towers to transmission lines. These are all examples of what is referred to as encroachment — issues that impact the military’s ability to train personnel, test equipment, fly and drive safely between installations, and other critical activities. Encroachment may also add costs and delays.

In some cases, encroachment already affects military installations. The Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, for example, is surrounded by private lands on the south and west sides of the installation. This limits activity in these directions. On the north and east side, the base connects to public lands and to Mojave Trails National Monument. These public lands are key to the military installation’s mission.

This relationship between the military and public lands is more important than ever for us to understand. That’s because earlier this year President Trump issued an Executive Order directing the Secretary of the Interior to review 27 national monuments, including Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow National Monuments in the Desert.

During this process local Congressman Paul Cook called for eliminating protections for Mojave Trails National Monument. I am deeply troubled by this as changes to Mojave Trails National Monument could impact the viability of our military facilities.

Given this, I urge the President, the Secretary of the Interior, and Rep. Cook to take into account the role that Mojave Trails National Monument plays in our military’s mission and readiness and leave the national monument unaltered.

At this moment, I’m reminded of the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt. A soldier and conservationist, I think he would have understood the relationship between our public lands and our Armed Services. I bet T.R. would have championed both in this day and age and urged our elected officials to do the same. Together, we can help ensure that the military has the resources they need to defend our country and that our public lands are protected for generations to come.