Earlier this year, the Defense Department and the Department of the Interior, as part of the DOD/DOI Recovery and Sustainment Partnership, or RASP, renewed a memorandum of understanding that spells out how the two agencies will continue their cooperation to conserve threatened and endangered species that live on DOD lands and training ranges.

The first such MOU was signed in 2018 and lasted five years. The second memorandum lasts for 10 years. Senior representatives from both agencies met Monday at the Pentagon for the first meeting of the RASP since the MOU was signed. 

Participants in the meeting reviewed the accomplishments of the RASP and discussed how recovery efforts have increased in number and effectiveness while providing regulatory relief for military readiness.  

“The DOD has long understood that protecting military lands and the species that reside there supports military readiness training,” said Brendan Owens, the assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment.  

According to Owens, as many as 550 species listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) reside on the nearly 27 million acres of lands, waters and airspace the DOD maintains and uses for testing new technologies and platforms, training service members and maintaining military readiness.  

The presence of threatened and endangered species can sometimes lead to constraints on vital military readiness, training and testing, but the MOU creates a dialogue between both signatories that allows the Defense Department to maintain readiness, while supporting the Interior Department in its mission to protect threatened and endangered species. 

“Through our renewed partnership with the Department of [the] Interior, we have confirmed our mutual commitment to proactive, innovative and collaborative approaches to protect imperiled species while increasing flexibility for military activities,” Owens said. “We look forward to our continued collaboration and the positive outcomes we can achieve together for national defense and [threatened and endangered] species.”

According to DOD records, the department has spent more than $2 billion over the last 33 years to conserve threatened and endangered species on its installations and ranges, all while advancing its vital mission.  

At the same time, lands managed by DOD support the greatest density of threatened, endangered and at-risk species of any federal land-managing agency.  

According to the MOU, the RASP develops innovative regulatory approaches and tools for achieving the intent of the ESA of 1973 while at the same time meeting the goals of both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Defense. 

Additionally, the RASP develops collaborative conservation initiatives, which enhance species conservation, advance species recovery, preclude the need to list additional species, and increase the resilience of species and ecosystems. 

As a result of the RASP and years of conservation efforts by DOD and partners, the DOD and the Fish and Wildlife Service last year delisted five species that only occur on the Navy’s San Clemente Island. Those species include the San Clemente Sage Sparrow, the San Clemente Island Larkspur, the San Clemente Island Paintbrush, the San Clemente Island Bush Mallow, and the San Clemente Island Lotus.  

At Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the two agencies were also able to delist the Okaloosa Darter — a small fish.  

This year, DOD and the Fish and Wildlife Service continue their partnership to improve conservation for more than 50 species, which will address mission impacts on over 150 DOD installations and ranges.

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