This Bird Has Flown: The Uncertain Fate of Wildlife on Closed Military Bases
Posted: 8 May 2002
As the fifth largest public lands manager in the federal government, the U.S. Department of Defense hosts significant wildlife populations on many of its large military bases in exurban and rural areas of the United States. As the military's mission began to change in the late twentieth century, Congress authorized the closure of several large bases. This closure legislation, however, makes no direct provision for the preservation of open space generally or wildlife habitat conservation specifically on these closed bases. This article presents case study research on the closure of two air force bases roughly equal in size and natural resource attributes. At one base, nearly a fourth of the land mass was preserved as a wildlife refuge; while at the other, all significant wildlife habitat was destroyed by real estate development. The two most significant factors accounting for the radical difference in these two base closure cases were (1) the political culture of the communities surrounding the bases, and (2) the relative presence of what Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam refers to as social capital. Several administrative measures can be taken within the Department of Defense and at the state and local level to increase the likelihood that the nation's wildlife heritage is better preserved in future base closures than is now usually the case.
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