The United States Marine Corps has utilized a Military Training Route (MTR) in the airspace over eastern North Carolina for decades. The two-mile wide MTR route loops from the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to Raleigh and across portions of seventeen counties and over 400,000 acres. Approximately 90% of the land underlying the MTR is privately owned rural working lands such as farms, ranches and forests.
Unfortunately, both the rural lands and the military have been impacted by encroachment caused by urbanization. Since 1957, the USMC has lost nearly 85% of its flight training airspace in eastern North Carolina. The loss of these rural working lands has severe implications for military training. The reduction of rural working lands damages military mission sustainability, as the encroachment issues associated with progressively urbanized areas interfere with low-level flight training. However, forestry and agriculture are land uses that are compatible with military aerial training requirements.
In partnership with the Institute of Renewable Natural Resources at Texas A&M University, NRS has been contracted to provide subject matter expertise on market-based conservation to assist the Marine Corps with this difficult problem. Market-based conservation is simply a concept that focuses on developing economic opportunities and programs to maintain rural working lands, such as farms, forests and ranches. NRS continues to assist the Marine Corps with:
- Strategic planning of the Market-based Conservation Program
- Identifying and coordinating a diverse set of stakeholders including agricultural organizations, non-profit environmental groups, natural resource agencies, academic institutions, military services and other partners who share the common goal of conserving rural lands
- Stakeholder development of a strategy for implementation of the pilot project for market-based conservation on rural lands underlying the MTR
This program has several important advantages. The Market-based Conservation Program pilot project created a framework through which private landowners may voluntarily enter into conservation contracts in exchange for benefits directly related to their interests. By designing and operating the project with the participation of landowner organizations, the project has substantially increased opportunities for large scale individual landowner participation. Because the project utilizes performance contracts, it is much more cost effective than most other conventional conservation tools, such as conservation easements. The true market system allows the market to determine the price of any ecological services and provides incentives for enthusiastic landowner involvement and participation.