Hood Canal and its surrounding watershed have been nominated as a Sentinel Landscape, an exclusive designation that recognizes both the natural resource values and the national defense mission of special areas across the country.
If the designation is approved, it will bolster applications for federal funding to protect and restore important habitats and to maintain working forests in and around Hood Canal. Given the uncertain budget for environmental programs under the Trump administration, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Department of Defense supporting the protection of Hood Canal.
The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership involves the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior. The idea is to coordinate the efforts of all three agencies in locations where their priorities overlap, according to the 2016 Report on Sentinel Landscapes (PDF 5.6 mb).
Priorities for the Department of Agriculture include protecting working farms and forests by providing technical and financial assistance. The Department of Interior is mostly interested in protecting natural resources and in restoring important habitats for fish and wildlife. The Department of Defense would like to reduce land-use conflicts with surrounding communities while maintaining maximum flexibility for testing, training and operational activities.
“This is really an exciting thing,” said Richard Corff of The Trust for Public Land, who put together the application proposing Hood Canal as a Sentinel Landscape. “The Pacific Northwest is an incredible area, and within that incredible area, Hood Canal is really, really special.”
Hood Canal is one of the few places in the country with intact forests from the marine waters to the high mountains, he said, and few places in the Northwest have healthy salmon habitat stretching up from saltwater into the higher reaches of the streams.
“It’s pretty magical in a lot of ways,” Corff said.
The Sentinel Landscape Partnership was launched as a pilot program in 2013, when Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma became the first area in the nation to be so designated.
The JBLM Sentinel Landscape encompasses the base’s 63,000-acre training area, which contains 90 percent of the remaining native prairie habitat in South Puget Sound. Protecting that habitat while maintaining military objectives is the highest priority. Other goals include working with landowners to implement pastureland conservation plans and protecting natural habitats that are home to several threatened and endangered species.
In 2015, two more Sentinel Landscapes were approved, Fort Huachuca in Arizona and Middle Chesapeake, associated with Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. In 2016, three more landscapes were designated: Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida, Camp Riley in Minnesota, and Eastern North Carolina, which includes Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and other military facilities.
Designation as a Sentinel Landscape requires that an area contain a military installation with surrounding lands suitable for conservation and/or working lands, such as farms and forests. These priorities must be recognized by government agencies, nongovernment organizations and other partners in the community.
Designated areas are required to develop a coordinated implementation strategy or plan designed to provide incentives to landowners who adopt or sustain land uses compatible the Sentinel Landscape program.
Corff stressed that designating Hood Canal as a Sentinel Landscape would not bring any new regulations or automatic land-use changes. In fact, any private lands involved in the program would require the consent of willing sellers, he said.
In a special meeting last week, the Hood Canal Coordinating Council agreed to coordinate interested parties within a Hood Canal Sentinel Landscape, provided funding is available. The designation is supported by state agencies as well as Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties and the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.
With local approvals in hand, Corff submitted the application yesterday to the Federal Coordinating Committee overseeing the Sentinel Landscape program. New additions to the program are expected to be announced this summer.
Lands proposed for inclusion in the Hood Canal region include Naval Base Kitsap with facilities at Bangor, Keyport, Bremerton, Indian Island and Dabob Bay, as well as surrounding federal, state and private properties.
Scott Brewer, executive director of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, said he believes the Sentinel Landscape Partnership is consistent with the council’s mission of coordinating efforts to protect and restore the Hood Canal watershed. In 2014, the council adopted a Hood Canal Integrated Watershed Plan — a shared vision that suggests how humans can live and work sustainably within a healthy Hood Canal ecosystem.
Another existing program is the Navy’s voluntary Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program (PDF 876 kb), which has preserved about 5,200 acres surrounding the Navy’s Dabob Bay Range Complex on the west side of Hood Canal in Jefferson County.
Partners in that program include the Navy, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Parks, The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land. Lands and conservation easements have been purchased with more than $13 million under that program, although I’m told that funding may be shifting toward the newer Sentinel Landscape program.
In the first three years of the newer program, more than $85 million has been invested in the first three Sentinel Landscapes, including about $18 million from state and local governments. More money has been proposed for the newly designated areas.
In addition to the REPI program, funds can be provided to Sentinel Landscapes through these programs of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service:
- Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which offers technical assistance to producers and landowners,
- Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to farmers for management practices that promote soil and water quality along with wildlife habitat.
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which provides funding to farmers through 10-year contracts for protecting natural resources.
- Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to conserve cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland, wetlands and nonindustrial private forest land.
Other successful grant programs include:
- The U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which protects ecologically and economically important forest lands by purchasing development rights and other methods.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants, which go for increasing wetland habitat and bird populations while supporting hunting, fishing, family farming, cattle ranching and bird watching.