by Ray Clark

The following article appears in the current issue of Baseline magazine an ICMA publication. It is reprinted here with the express permission of ICMA and the author, Ray Clark.

Since leaving my position with the U.S. Army last month, I have taken a brief respite to a place where I once had a small farm. This is a place in the foothills of the Southern Appalachians where people are intensely private, yet have a deep sense of community. As I headed to this piece of heaven called Rabbittown, Alabama, it became clear before I arrived at a friend's home that I would be visiting a different landscape than when I last visited just two years ago.

The simple farm-to-market road built in the 1930's is dotted with modern new homes. Just 10 years ago, on a trip from the city (Anniston or Jacksonville) to Rabbittown, you might see few cars and several tractors or cotton trailers. This highway is now crowded with big trucks and the omnipresent sports utility vehicles. Now the roadway is heaviest weekdays between 7 and 8 in the morning and 4 and 5 in the evenings as the new residents rush to and from work, and yes, soccer practice in town.

The scene is not unique, of course. It is being replayed in small communities across America. It is called urban sprawl and we have been having a national dialogue about it for the better part of the last 30 years. In the late 1960s this dialogue centered on the deteriorating quality of life and diminishing wildlife habitat. The issue was a major part of the 1968 debate accompanying the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Testifying before the House and Senate colloquium chaired by Senator Henry Jackson and Congressman John Dingell, Laurence Rockefeller and many other distinguished citizens, scientists, and planners urged its passage. Supporters of NEPA in the Congress were required to assure the reluctant Members of Congress that NEPA was absolutely not a land-use control act. But for whatever reason, many of those with much to gain from its structured, disciplined, and rational approach to growth were not terribly interested in the bill. I include those most impacted as the family farmer and the soldier.

Since the passage of NEPA in 1970, 19 million acres of once rural land in the U.S. are now urbanized, but during the same period, the density of urban population decreased by 23 percent. Today more than 50 percent of the American population lives in the suburbs.

The modern American movement, includes local referenda, national legislation, new non- governmental organizations and is the descendent of the 30-year-old discussions about sprawl and unchecked growth. The movement is called "sustainability;" some call it "smart growth;" others refer to "metropolitan strategies;" still others prefer to talk about "regionalism." Some in the political world have called for a "livability" agenda. It is a smart agenda and must include long-term military training, as communities approach Army fence lines. Congressman Mark Udall recently introduced a bill ( Urban Sprawl and Smart Growth Act-HR1739) to require the White House Council on Environmental Quality to conduct a study on the effects of urban sprawl, including the effects on military training. My recent stint at the Pentagon leads me to be a big supporter of Udall's bill. This is a good vehicle to begin to understand the effects on the health and viability of both the family farm and military readiness.

The Army's essential training requires live firing of weapons and ground maneuvers to practice and maintain proficiency. The Army has a variety of fixed firing ranges and soldiers practice everything from individual small arms to large-caliber crew-served weapons. The important training installations all include a range complex that supports both live weapons firing and maneuver. Most of the $8 billion a year Army investment in training goes to "Operating Tempo" and the "Flying Hours Program" and will remain central to the Army's training strategy. The American people are well served by this strategy and it is essential for mission success and the survivability of the young soldiers we put in harm's way every day.

As the Army goes about doing its core business, urban growth silently is moving in as neighbors to these formerly rural outposts. Many of the Army's active installations are in areas experiencing regional growth rates at five to ten times the national average. Fort Hood, Texas has seen its surrounding population increase by 481 percent since it was established in 1942. Fort Hood shares some boundary lines with housing developments. The conflicts between these two incompatible land uses are growing. Recently, a developer who built houses close to Fort Carson's ranges sued the Army over noise issues. In fact, forty-three percent of Army installations surveyed in one study reported noise problems that required either rescheduling or moving training ranges to resolve.

Environmental protection is essential to the Army's innate sense of good citizenship. And while installation commanders are required to balance a lot of societal goods, they are doing a pretty good job of being environmental stewards. The Army as an institution, however, is still not quite engaged in the urban sprawl discussion that started 30 years ago, even though it is the primary reason for training curtailment. Rather than discuss cause and solutions, the tendency is to discuss the effects. Some of the senior civilian and military staff at the Pentagon are inclined to blame "encroachment", which means any external factor that impedes weapons firing and ground maneuvers. And some staff at the Pentagon believe the primary encroachment on training is environmental statutes such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and others. While constraints on military training, such as rescheduling night firing, or avoiding critical habitat during mating season, are real, the impact on the readiness of our soldiers to fight and win the nation's wars is not at all clear. Commanders throughout the Army continue to report a high level of readiness to go to war year after year after year, with few exceptions.

In focusing on the effects of environmental statutes, the Army is fighting the wrong battle. Installation Commanders have generally been good stewards of the environment and have found innovative ways to resolve natural resource conflicts. With a bit of cleverness, such as the Private Lands Initiative at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the Conservation Partnership Program at Fort Hood, military readiness and environmental protection can be mutually supportive. The Private Lands Initiative is a partnership between Fort Bragg, other federal and state agencies, and the Nature Conservancy in which they buy lands or conservation easements are purchased from willing sellers with the intent of protecting the Sandhills ecosystem, increase useable training land, and recover the Red Cockaded Woodpecker. This is a systemic solution that is a win-win for national security and environmental protection. Similarly, Fort Hood is assisting in protection of endangered species on private lands through purchases, land swaps, and easements. Although strongly backed by field commanders, not everyone at the Pentagon supports these initiatives and they continue to lack sufficient resources necessary to make them models.

The real battle for the Army is poor development of communities around its installations. It is time for one of America's great institutions to get engaged in the fight to help stem the tide of sprawl. If you lose an acre of fertile farmland to sprawl, you lose it forever; if you lose an acre of training land to sprawl, you lose it forever. And while the Army has excess installations and facilities, it is short on training land. The Army of the future is fewer, but larger installations. The land use requirements for a modern Army to house and train one soldier has changed from 80 meters by 80 meters to 100 meters by 160 meters, in just the last 10 years.

It's not the environmental laws that are the real "encroachment" threat to military training and the viability of installations; it's people looking for a place to build a house. At Fort Sill, Oklahoma, critical firing ranges were abandoned because of pressures from urban growth at Lawton, Oklahoma. Many DOD installations are affected by high growth of counties and cities. In the Army, Fort Stewart, Georgia, Fort Bliss, Texas, Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Carson, Colorado, Fort Campbell, Kentucky are all affected by this growth. Last year the Tacoma News Tribune, serving the community around Fort Lewis, ran an article, "Land Use Plan Said to Risk Future of Area Bases". Cities and counties should no longer plan regional growth without taking into consideration the impact on Army installations and no longer can they take for granted the existence of the installation. In fact, there will be another round of base closures and I would strongly recommend that DoD and Congress use future growth, a region's growth management plans, and natural resource competition as criteria for choosing installations to close. Some day in the near future, an Army general somewhere may look back wistfully on the days when his or her neighbor was an endangered species. They are a hell of a lot easier to manage.

But rather than look back wistfully, it is time for the military leadership to look ahead at the land use requirements of the future. The following are ways I think the Army and city and county managers can work together to ensure viable training and maintain a high quality of life in their areas:

The Army can:

  1. Identify Installations at Risk and the Root Causes of Reduced Training. The Army should prepare a study on the sustainability of its installations through the first quarter of this century. This study should highlight what factors limit the sustainability, whether it is urban growth, scarce water, ability to accommodate future weapon systems and the like. This study should be undertaken immediately to be available to the Congress during the next round of base closure.
  2. Develop More Regional Planning Efforts with Cities and Counties. Installations are often military cities within cities. Each have the same needs for water, energy, waste disposal and transportation. Many installations cooperate very closely with cities and counties and share airports and other infrastructure. Through an innovative program developed by the Army, the Installation Compatible Use Zones, cities and counties work with the Army to ensure land bordering the installation is zoned properly to avoid conflicts. It is not, however, the rule that joint and cooperative planning occurs. Some counties have no authority to restrict land use on private developments.
  3. Engage in the National Dialogue on the Effects of Sprawl. An easy entry point is the Mark Udall bill (HR 1739). The military should cooperate with the Council on Environmental Quality to conduct the study the bill requires of the Council.
  4. Develop Sustainability Models for Installations. As the Army works through the tough issues of what the transformed force will look like, it should simultaneously define the installation to house and train that force. It is clear that the installation of the future will need more room for maneuvers, more land to expand to ensure maximum flexibility, and a certain and adequate supply of resources like water and energy. Not all the current installations are sustainable. Life cycle planning for new weapons systems should address land use considerations, which are as important as spare parts inventory.
  5. Seek Congressional Authority for Land Purchases. With the exception of Fort Irwin, the Army has no major land acquisitions in the program. The Army should complete its Land Use Requirements Study and work with the Secretary of Defense and the Congress to add lands to those installations that we know need land to support the transformed force and to be a sustainable installation. It should be clear that the Army is authorized to purchase lands solely for use as buffer zones. If there is a new base closure bill, ensure that revenues saved by closing one installation can be used to purchase lands or enter into a conservation partnership program similar to the ones at Fort Bragg and Fort Hood.
  6. Fully Fund a Conservation Partnership Program. The Army should move aggressively to fully fund the Forts Bragg and Hood initiatives and transport these models to other installations.

Cities and Counties can:

  1. Support HR 1739. This bill will help identify the effects sprawl has had on military readiness and will ensure that all agencies take into account these effects before they make decisions affecting military readiness.
  2. Develop Legislation to Protect the Installations. The California legislature recently passed the "California Defense Retention and Conversion Act of 1999". One of the goals of the legislation is the "long term protection of lands adjacent to military bases". Such legislation should require cities and counties to develop a growth management plan and the plan coordinate with military installations within their jurisdiction.
  3. Re-develop Brownfield and Infill Sites. Perhaps many brownfield sites will not be available for housing development. But the redevelopment will take pressure off clean infill sites that can be used for housing development. Still brownfields should not be automatically excluded from potential housing development. There are good examples for such use. Obviously, not all-new development can take place on brownfields, or even "infill" locations, but there is much more room for creativity than is currently being practiced.
  4. Develop a Conservation Partnership Program with Installations. Cities and counties should move aggressively to develop a conservation partnership with the Army, the Nature Conservancy and others to purchase lands or easements around installations that can be used as buffers and habitat protection. There are many public uses for these lands, while providing the Army buffers from development. Agricultural outleases, for instance, of buffer lands within the Army's jurisdiction have long been an effective compatible use of adjacent training lands. Further, the communities could be a real assistance getting support from Congress, DoD and at Army Headquarters.
  5. Develop a Dialogue and Action Plans with Commanders. Initiate a local dialogue on land use and zoning. Historically, communities in the U.S. have supported separate zoning classifications for different land uses -- industrial, commercial, agricultural, residential -- that have exacerbated sprawl by forcing residential development away from jobs and commercial activity. Local communities should revisit this model and begin a discussion on how culturally appropriate, higher density, mixed-use development might be pursued as an antidote to sprawl. A locally developed, regional, comprehensive economic development strategy process might be one tool to help communities meet this objective

Military training, community development and environmental protection are compatible. It will take communities and commanders some real stretches of creativity and cleverness to reach the goal. The starting point is a positive dialogue about regional growth and sustainability.

Ray Clark is President of the Clark Group and Senior Associate at Hurt Norton Associates in Washington. He left the Pentagon in April 2001 as the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment. From 1999-2000, he was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment. Before that he was Associate Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He can be reached at: