December 10, 2016 Urban Lawyer

Winning on All Fronts: A Case Study of the Army’s Compatible Use Buffer Program at Fort Riley, Kansas

by Graci Bozarth

Graci Bozarth is a J.D. candidate, University of Missouri—Kansas City School of Law, 2016; B.A. Spanish, Bob Jones University, 2003; M.A. Spanish, Auburn University, 2005; and Captain, U.S. Army. The author would like to thank her husband Scott and their three children, Abby, Andy, and Avi, for their support. The author would also like to thank Professor Christopher Holman and The Urban Lawyer staff for all their help. The views expressed in this comment are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the United States government.

“No matter what is reaped or sown, progress may just be best measured by the things we leave alone.”1

I.  Introduction

Traipsing through the woods of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, I never considered the impact of my activities on the land.2 Instead, my focus as a private3 in basic training was learning military tasks while I dug “Ranger Graves”4 and low crawled, walked, or ran through the woodlands. Military training exacts a heavy toll on one of the Army’s key resources — its land.5 For that reason, the Army planning process now includes environmental considerations in order to protect the land and the Army’s training spaces.6 The importance of training space stems from the fact that (1) technology fails when human operators are unable to train effectively and realistically on their weapons, and (2) today’s weapons demand more training space than was required by any weapon previously used in the history of warfare.7

Federal agencies hold almost one-third of the land that comprises the United States.8 As one of the top five agencies that manage this federal land, the Department of Defense (DoD) is responsible for over 19 million acres.9 Of the different military branches falling under the DoD, the Army is the largest landholder, responsible for over 7 million acres.10 With the privilege of holding so much of the nation’s land comes the responsibility of managing that land — not only to protect the military’s vital training mission but also to protect the nation’s natural resources.

In what is nearly the geographical center of the United States lays a key military holding: Fort Riley, Kansas.11 For over a hundred years, the installation has served the ever-changing needs of the American people and is still thriving.12 It is in this setting that the Army’s Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) Program is making an impact benefitting both the training mission and the environment.13 Since 2006, the U.S. Army at Fort Riley, Kansas, has actively facilitated conservation easements on private land with the help of non-military partners, and both the military and the public are benefitting.14

This article argues that the ACUB Program is an example of a successful public-private partnership between military installations, land trusts, and private landowners. The ACUB Program is a valuable tool for Army conservation efforts and benefits all parties involved in the transaction. As evidenced by its success at Fort Riley, the program provides the stand-off distance required by the military, preventing civilian encroachment that can frequently interfere and conflict with the military training mission.15 Additionally, with the active and willing involvement of landowners, the program protects habitats that would otherwise be lost to development.16

The first section of this article describes the ACUB Program, including its history, its goals, and the means that it uses to effect preservation.17 The second part of this article addresses the Army’s civilian partner, the land trust, including a brief history of land trusts and how they typically function.18 The third part addresses the program’s implementation at Fort Riley, Kansas, including an overview of Fort Riley’s history, focusing on its unique training mission and its unique land.19 The third part will also discuss the Kansas Land Trust, describe collaboration between the Kansas Land Trust and the installation, and recount how one local rancher granted a key conservation easement on his property.20 The military should continue to forge legal relationships such as these with private owners and land trusts and, in doing so, support the training mission while simultaneously managing crucial environmental assets.

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