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Policy & Politics

Published on July 16th, 2009 | by Tina Casey


U.S. Military Allies with Golden-Cheeked Warbler to Fight San Antonio Sprawl

July 16th, 2009 by  

U.S. military training reservation Camp Bullis is home to 6,500 acres of prime habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler.


In one of the strangest alliances in military history, the U.S. Army at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio has joined with the golden-cheeked warbler to fight urban sprawl near the Camp Bullis Military Training Reservation.  Camp Bullis is a training ground for U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marines combat troops, and for medical units.  The 27,994-acre reservation includes 6,500 acres of prime habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler, which is on the endangered species list in Texas and the U.S.

Camp Bullis as a Natural Habitat for the Golden-Cheeked Warbler

Like many military training grounds, Camp Bullis is an undeveloped area that has become a de facto nature preserve.  According to San Antonio Express-News writer Billy Calzada, the San Anionio City Council recently approved a plan to protect Camp Bullis.  The San Antonio Planning Commission, however, is another story.  Within the past year, the Commission approved 43 of the 45 development proposals near Camp Bullis.  The U.S. Army strongly opposed the projects, partly on the grounds that there has been no endangered species studies — at least, none that the developers are willing to share with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Just this month, the Commission approved the 420-unit Palmira development, despite the U.S. military’s argument that it would interfere with its night-vision training exercises and force endangered species to relocate.

The U.S. Army Environmental Command and the Golden-Cheeked Warbler

This summer, the U.S. Army Environmental Command issued a detailed statement warning of the danger that the new developments pose to Camp Bullis as a habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler. Concerns over the effect of urban sprawl on Camp Bullis actually date at least as far back as 1995.  From a military training perspective, alone, urban sprawl is a serious concern.  Aside from light pollution, sprawl also brings more noise complaints, which over the years has resulted in a series of compromises severely curtailing training efficiencies at the reservation.

Sustainability and the U.S. Military

While training efficiencies are the main concern, the Environmental Command lists habitat preservation and support for local endangered species ordinances as two of its top five priorities for protecting Camp Bullis.  Habitat protection at U.S. military facilities is yet another indication of just how closely entwined sustainability has become with the central mission of the armed forces.  Just a few other examples are Fort Bragg’s work on preserving two rare bat species, a phytoremediation project to clean up trichlroethelyne contamination at an Air Force Base in Carswell, Texas, and the entire Vermont National Guard – the legendary “Green Mountain Boys” – taking on a sustainability leadership role that includes using wetlands at its facilities as a learning laboratory for local high schools.  As for the Palmira and other new developments near Camp Bullis, it appears that developers are rushing projects ahead of proposed new protections for the reservation.  Ironic, isn’t it, that our military is fighting two wars overseas – and another one here at home.

Image: Courtesy of Fort Hood, on flickr. 


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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