When millions of acres aren’t enough

Burning money

July 5, 2016 – According to a 2014 report from the US Congressional Research Service, there are more than 4,800 US Department of Defense (DOD) sites worldwide that range in size from small parcels (less than an acre) to the 3.1 million acres of the Nellis Air Force Range in Nevada. A 2012 report from the same source said that 4,127 of these sites are within the 50 states and US territories. Recent news and research reports peg the number of US bases on foreign soil as of 2015 at around 800, in approximately 80 countries. These numbers don’t quite add up because no one really knows the exact figures.

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Military bases worldwide

13 DoD bases & ranges in US

Military bases in US lower 48 states

According to the 2014 Congressional Research Service report, the DOD owns 14,477,496 acres of land in the United States and its Territories, or 22,621 square miles. Much of that acreage is in the West. Interestingly, the 2012 report shows DOD having 5 million more acres in 2012 than it did in 2014. Reasons are not immediately evident, and this writer could find no news stories of DOD divesting itself of that much land. Figures from 2014 DOD land ownership include:

438,938 acres in Washington,

31,510 acres in Oregon, and

1,897,978 acres in California.

This totals 2.4 million acres, or about 3,700 square miles in these three states alone. This does not include the hundreds of thousands of square miles of airspace, or the millions of square miles of ocean they also utilize in or adjacent to these three states.

Screen Shot Low Flying Navy jets

Low-flying Navy jets over the Olympic Mountains disturb wildlife and quiet.

The purpose of DOD-owned lands is “…to guarantee DOD continued access to its land, air, and water resources for realistic military training and testing and to sustain the long-term ecological integrity of the resource base and the ecosystem it provides.” The use of the phrase “realistic military training” is odd, since the military defines it (RMT) as taking place “off federally owned property.”

So with all that available space, why does the Navy insist it also needs our national forests, national parks, state parks, and even private lands, too?

A 1988 agreement states that the DOD must prove that military-owned lands are unavailable or unsuitable before they can be allowed to take over a national forest. Nowhere in any public documents relating to our region have they ever done that. And they are not managing the lands they already own, either.

Back in 2005, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that was critical of the military’s management and utilization of its training ranges. Some ranges were overscheduled, and others were not utilized at all. Of 8 management actions for improving training range conditions analyzed by the GAO, the Navy was the only branch of the armed services to not complete a single one. Nearly ten years later, GAO’s most recent report (2014) concludes that the Secretary of Defense “…does not have a strategic plan, with goals and metrics, to manage DOD’s real property efficiently and facilitate identifying opportunities for consolidating unutilized or underutilized facilities.” Really? No plan? For 14 million acres?

Sometime this summer, the Forest Service will likely announce that it is adopting wholesale the Navy’s flawed 2014 Environmental Assessment on using its mobile emitters in Olympic National Forest. The Forest Service will then open a 45-day “objection period.” As if the public hasn’t already made their objections known—4,000 written public comments and thousands more expressions of public outrage back in autumn 2014 earned a 2-year stay from the Forest Service, but we will all have to again object en masse. Why? Because if the Forest Service and Navy think they can ignore the public, they can’t ignore the courts, and your comments will count heavily for the weight of public opinion when they are taken to court. You will be notified when the objection period opens.

It’s also worth noting that the Pentagon, whose spending continues to balloon despite claims to the contrary, is the only department of the government to have never passed an audit, despite a 1994 federal law saying it must. In fact, the Pentagon has never accounted for $8.5 trillion dollars doled out by taxpayers since 1996.

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Think about it. If not even the Government Accountability Office can make the military fiscally accountable or manage its own ranges so that they don’t have to take over our precious public lands, then maybe there’s only one real force that can stop them: Citizens. Armed with facts, votes, raised voices, political savvy and the determination to stop this runaway war train that spends two dollars on defense contractors for every dollar it spends on troops, and either cannot or will not manage the resources given to it by taxpayers. The DOD has millions of acres for combat training. Let’s not allow our public parks, wildernesses and neighborhoods to be used that way, too.

ONP hiker

The notion that people who exercise critical thinking about their government are unpatriotic radicals who hate their country is naive and idiotic. These people are more likely the ones who love their country more than most, are thus more disturbed than the rest when they see it debauched, and are more willing to step up and act against their despair.

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