Military area cum nature reserve

Zentelis & Lindenmayer has a correspondence in this week’s Nature (516: 170; “Conservation: Manage military land for the environment”) that would resonate with some of us.

They write that they have an upcoming article in Conservation Letters that estimates military training areas globally to be >50 million ha, most likely closer to 300 million ha, encompassing “all major global ecosystems, including those poorly represented within formal reserve systems”.

Likewise in Singapore, military training areas are restricted in access and protected from development. Although mostly abandoned plantations or wastelands that are still considerably disturbed and usually dominated by exotics and common pioneers, they are at least better than concrete and mowed grass for supporting native wildlife.

But several forested training areas have recently been degazetted, or about to be degazetted, and returned to state land, with an eventual fate of being developed.

Also, there is no regular or extensive ecological research program in existing military areas. While it’s possible to get permits, it’s still not as accessible as other sites and hence less enthusiastically surveyed.

Thirdly, our experience is that they can be possible festering grounds for invasive, non-native species. They would therefore have made excellent study sites, but are difficult to gain access to. At the same time, the military may not allow large scale eradication of problem species until the case is proven for their impacts, especially in terms that the military find problematic, such as posing risks to soldiers, security, etc. The need to show case for access and the need for access to collect data and build a case is a chicken-and-egg problem.

The question is: how do we re-align the differences between ecological goals and the military’s priorities to make the best biodiversity value of military training areas?

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