Related on MNN: The weapons industry is going green.

Ever wonder how blasting cannons through a landscape could coincide with careful planning to help its native species? The New York Times reports that military commanders on bases around the country are realizing that supporting local wildlife is in their best interest. Why? Because the more endangered animals and plants thrive, the fewer habitat restrictions the military will face.

The army owns 30 million acres in the United States that are home to plants and animals. And while they are not doing anything to curb military training, they are working as never before to accommodate the Endangered Species Act.

Fort Stewart in Georgia is doing its part to preserve local wildlife. The base spends about $3 million a year to manage the five endangered species that live on its 297,000 acres. As the NY Times reports, the military built 100 artificial cavities and installed them 25 feet high in large pines for the red-cockaded woodpecker. This saves the woodpeckers about six months of time. Scientists placed cameras in the nests and the footage showed the birds seem to be indifferent to live-fire exercises. Since then, the woodpecker population has rebounded.

And the green deeds have continued. The Air Force has restored the Okaloosa darter in Florida. In San Clemente, Calif., the loggerhead shrike has been brought back from the brink of extinction. In Twentynine Palms, Calif., the army built a desert tortoise research center to make sure the soft-shelled tortoise babies were not eaten by ravens.

This effort of conservation is a marked departure from previous military policies. Early in George W. Bush’s administration, the military lobbied for limited exemptions from federal protection rules, but that soon changed. Records show that between 2004 and 2008, the Department of Defense spent $300 million to protect endangered wildlife. This is more than it spent in the past 10 years.

L. Peter Boice is the Pentagon’s deputy director of natural resources. As he told the NY Times, “There is a strong understanding now that land is a limited resource, and that even our military is part of a larger ecosystem … If that degrades, it is harder for us to do our mission.”

While some conservationists say the military is still doing more harm than good — for example, using Navy sonar that interferes with whales and dolphins — other environmentalists are pleased. Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, says "Overall, the military has done a great job. When they decide we are going to protect something, they just do it."

Ultimately, the Pentagon wants to own these lands with multiparty partnerships. For example, the Marine Corps’ Townsend Range is joining forces with the Nature Conservancy to protect the Altamaha River in Georgia. Local groups are encouraged by this partnership. Hopes are that conservation will continue on a large scale if it remains aligned with the seemingly endless resources of the military.

For further reading:

MNN homepage photo: ninjaMonkeyStudio/iStockphoto

Military and environmentalists join forces to preserve endangered animals
An unlikely alliance bears fruit as military leaders realize that supporting local wildlife could mean fewer regulations down the road.