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Camp Ripley gains designation as Sentinel Landscape

The departments of Interior, Agriculture and Defense joined with state and federal partners Tuesday to announce the designation of three new Sentinel Landscapes to benefit working lands, wildlife conservation and military readiness.

One of the three Sentinel Landscapes is Camp Ripley.

Through the Sentinel Landscapes partnership, the DOI, USDA and DoD have committed to working together in overlapping priority areas near military installations to help farmers and ranchers make improvements to the land that benefit their operation, enhance wildlife habitat, and enable DoD's training missions to continue. This year's Sentinel Landscapes were chosen for Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida, Camp Ripley and military bases in eastern North Carolina.

Sentinel Landscapes are not only home to imperiled species such as red-cockaded woodpeckers, northern long-eared bats and Florida gopher turtle, but also to military ranges that test and train advanced aircraft and communications systems. The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership also enables federal state agencies to achieve their goals on a wider scale at a greater cost-share with broader stakeholder buy-in.

"The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership is an important conservation tool benefiting some of the nation's most significant working landscapes and wildlife habitat," said Michael Bean, principal deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at Interior, in a news release. "The designation is proof that we can preserve military readiness while also protecting important landscapes and wildlife habitat."

"The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership works because it meets multiple objectives for each of the different participants. This collaboration achieves shared goals and extends our relationship with dozens of organizations at the local and state level," said Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. "By using USDA's conservation programs to protect viable farmland, rangeland, forestland and grasslands from development around these military bases and training sites we ensure that our military has flexible locations for training while at the same time protecting water resources and prime wildlife habitat on working lands."

"What makes this announcement so significant is the benefit these partnerships provide to our national security," said Pete Potochney, performing the duties of assistant secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment, in a news release. "Not only does the collaboration around Avon Park, Camp Ripley, and throughout Eastern North Carolina ensure the continued availability of critical military installations and ranges, but this partnership also preserves working lands that provide food and fiber to our nation, and sustains key natural resources that help to ensure water quality and provide climate change resilience.

"The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership is an innovative initiative that protects critical DoD missions through efficient government and private sector collaboration. This is a true win for warfighters and taxpayers."

Military-related activity is the second largest economic driver behind agriculture in Eastern North Carolina, a region that is home to significant wildlife habitat and 29 federally-listed threatened or endangered species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker. The Eastern North Carolina Sentinel Landscape has 20 federal, state and local partners that have committed nearly $11 million to protect or enhance nearly 43,000 acres.

Within the Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape, 24 local, state, and federal partners have committed over $8.25 million within the Sentinel Landscape to protect or enhance 1,926 acres. Avon Park Air Force Range is the Air Force's primary training range east of the Mississippi River and is a training resource for all branches of the military as well as state and local law enforcement. The Sentinel Landscape is also a biodiversity hot spot, home to imperiled species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise and the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge. Avon Park and the surrounding area are part of a strong agricultural tradition, resulting today in numerous cattle ranches, citrus farms, croplands and working forests.

Sitting at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Camp Ripley is the primary National Guard Training Center for units from seven states. The rural and agricultural character of the landscape helps to protect imperiled species such as the northern long-eared bat. It is also one of Minnesota's most important drinking water source areas and the quality of water flowing into more than 40 miles of the Mississippi River 16 local, state, and federal partners have committed over $5.18 million within the Sentinel Landscape to protect or enhance 34,903 acres, which will not only protect Camp Ripley's training mission and the integrity of the region's natural resources, but provide expanded access to hunting, fishing and recreation for local residents.

With interagency and private collaboration, these Sentinel Landscapes will help preserve the land's natural character while benefiting national defense, local economies and the conservation of natural resources.

The new Sentinel Landscapes join three that were previously designated: Fort Huachuca (Arizona), Joint Base Lewis-McChord (Washington) and NAS Patuxent River-Atlantic Test Ranges (Maryland). Go to www.sentinellandscapes.org for more information on the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, including project-specific fact sheets.

The USDA, DoD, and Interior will continue to work together to identify opportunities to designate Sentinel Landscapes at keystone locations across the United States. The program represents one of the newer innovations the administration has chartered under species protection. Sentinel Landscapes demonstrate how perceived incompatibilities in land use can coexist, and shows why the Endangered Species Act is an important tool to build partnership and build community.

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