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Sentinel Landscapes

VP Gilbert Prairie

Through the Sentinel Landscapes partnership, NRCS works with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to preserve agriculture and restore and protect wildlife habitat on private and tribal lands near military facilities.

Growing pressure from land development, water-use constraints and endangered species on and near facilities are impeding the military’s ability to carry out testing and training. These areas are often productive and viable working lands that provide food for the nation and important ecosystem habitat.

The collaboration among USDA, U.S. Department of Interior and Department of Defense began in 2013 and is helping farmers and ranchers make improvements to the land that help keep them in business, enhance wildlife habitat and support national defense.

Sentinel Landscapes in Washington

Sentinel Lands MapSouth Puget Sound in Washington State was the first designated Sentinel Landscape in the nation. Home to Joint Base Lewis-McCord, South Puget Sound contains the majority of the last remaining native prairie habitat in the western half of the state. It is also home to several at-risk wildlife and plant species that rely on the prairie. Tied in with these important species are agricultural operations that actually maintain the necessary habitat conditions for their survival. These farms and ranches are also vital to the rural economy of the region.

Joint Base Lewis-McCord also contains a large area of native prairie habitat within the base. The Department of Defense must balance mission readiness and environmental protection not only on the base, but also in the surrounding communities. It is also important to limit development near the base to avoid issues with training operations disturbing local residents. It was only natural then for the military to reach out to those agencies and partners best equipped to address at-risk species and the agricultural community.  

The NRCS, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington State agencies and the Center for Natural Lands Management work jointly to identify prairie dependent species and to reach out to landowners offering technical and financial assistance.  This assistance aims to preserve, protect and restore native prairie species through:

  • Conservation Easements: NRCS acquires conservation easements under the former Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) and Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) and the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program-Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP-ALE) and Wetland Reserve Easements (ACEP-WRE);

    • Agricultural Land Easements offer long term protection to existing prairie habitats by purchasing the development value of these lands while allowing the existing farming and ranching operations to continue.

    • Wetland Reserve Easements provide a mechanism to restore converted wetlands back into functioning habitat and provide long term protection from development

  • Habitat Restoration: Habitat for the Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly, Streaked horned lark and Mazama pocket gopher, along with other at-risk species, directly benefit from NRCS cost-share programs (the former Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program-WHIP, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program-EQIP and the Conservation Stewardship Program-CStP) that help control invasive weeds, prevent pesticide drift, improve grazing management and re-establish native plant species. The USFWS and the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) also provide technical and financial assistance to restore native plant communities that support listed and candidate wildlife species.; and

  • Regulatory Predictability: Building on the successes of NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service may be able to provide producers certainty that the conservation investments they make today help sustain their agricultural operations over the long term. Under the Section 4(d) rule of the Endangered Species Act, farmers and ranchers with specific populations of Threatened species may carry on with their normal agricultural operations without fear of penalties or interference. In this case, the 4(d) rule helps ensure the existence and viability of agricultural operations that also maintain the habitat conditions needed by the Mazama pocket gopher and Streaked horned lark.

Read the USDA, Interior and Defense departments partner to benefit agricultural lands, wildlife habitat and military readiness press release.