By Tracy G. Mallard, Ed.D. 

The Department of Defense (DoD) relies on their lands and waters, collectively termed “natural infrastructure,” for mission preparedness, military readiness, and operational success. The DoD’s natural infrastructure totals 27 million acres and provides critical functions that directly and indirectly support mission activities, installation buildings, and surrounding communities. Continued ecosystem transformations and climate change are projected to undermine the capacity of DoD’s natural infrastructure to sustain current and future mission activities, making these accelerated changes a national security threat. 

The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment held the first DoD Climate Resilience Workshop from July 10-13 in St. Louis, Missouri. Over 950 stakeholders attended the event, representing the DoD; federal, state, and local governments; and communities. Participants shared best practices and lessons learned in making climate-informed decisions, increasing installation infrastructure resilience, and enhancing climate adaptation and resilience through collaboration. 

A key theme emerged from this year’s DoD Climate Resilience Workshop - collaboration inside, outside, and across the fence line is critical to maintaining and advancing resilient built and natural infrastructure. The workshop sought to convene and partner with stakeholders across federal agencies, the policy community, installation management and planning, and the research community. Collaboration across these groups will ensure new approaches to advancing installation resilience have their intended impact. 

The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) have a long history of funding the development of data, tools, and resources that further the DoD’s commitment to installation resilience. SERDP- and ESTCP-funded science and technologies that are integrated in installation planning efforts have largely been successful due to their collaborative development. These tools and technologies were highlighted as case studies at the workshop. 

Wildland Fire Science 

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cody Nell, 20th Civil Engineering Squadron lead firefighter watches over a controlled burn at Poinsett Electronic Range Jan. 8, 2020. The controlled burn was authorized by ranger personnel and the Shaw Natural Resource program to reduce hazard fuels on the Poinsett Electronic Range to prevent any future wildfires. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Destani K. Matheny)

Multiple sessions across the four-day workshop took a detailed look at the interdependency of climate change and wildland fires and how they can both serve or threaten the military mission. SERDP and ESTCP principal investigators, including James Furman with the U.S. Forest Service, highlighted the collaboration within the DoD Wildland Fire Science Initiative (WFSI), a network of wildland fire science researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. Since 2014, Mr. Furman has supported a series of SERDP and ESTCP projects within the WFSI program, which was established for wildland fire science researchers to collaborate within the scientific field – ranging from laboratory experiments to prescribed burns on thousands of acres. Through a portfolio of over thirty SERDP and ESTCP research projects specific to wildland fire, the WFSI program brings together the fire management and research communities to develop the next-generation fire behavior and smoke dispersion models. 

The WFSI program has successfully transitioned science and technology across the DoD installation portfolio, largely because of the research community’s commitment to produce new technology and science in conjunction with the installation fire management community. Some technologies that have been co-developed with the fire management community include FastFuels and QUIC-Fire, a suite of tools that advance DoD’s prescribed fire planning and analysis capabilities. The WFSI program has been successful because it established and facilitated lines of communication for wildland fire researchers, managers, and federal partners to realize and accomplish shared missions. 

At the DoD Climate Resilience Workshop, Mr. Furman introduced a new interagency initiative, the National Innovation Landscapes Network (NILN). NILN is a user-centered effort to develop and transfer innovative science and technology through deliberate communication and collaboration between researchers and installation managers and planners. The NILN was established by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Environment and Energy Resilience (ODASD E&ER) offices, in partnership with Department of Interior agencies, U.S. Forest Service, and several Department of Energy research labs. This new approach to natural resource innovation will scale the communication structures first developed within the WFSI program across federally managed lands in geographies that are experiencing rapid ecological change (e.g., Eastern U.S., Alaska). The Eastern Innovation Landscape Network (EILN) is the first landscape within the NILN. EILN will focus on implementing validated fire science technologies and tools (e.g., FastFuels and QUIC-Fire) and inviting installation managers into the development of new technologies and science, thereby reducing the time it takes for the management community to implement new knowledge and products. Future landscapes will expand the focus to additional critical areas of climate adaptation and resilience within other concentrated DoD geographies. To find out more, please visit https://serdp-estcp.org/NILN

Ecosystem Process Modeling 

Two complementary sessions at the DoD Climate Resilience Workshop highlighted the importance of understanding ecosystem change and being able to model and predict that change in preserving DoD mission activities and military readiness. The ecosystem process modeling sessions convened stakeholders across policy, federal and state government, installation management, and research communities. In the first session, researchers provided an overview of the current state-of-the-science. The session opened with policy- and research-level objectives offered by Ryan Orndorff, Director of ODASD E&ER Environmental Planning and Conservation, and Kevin Hiers, Program Manager for SERDP and ESTCP Resource Conservation and Climate Resilience. SERDP and ESTCP principal investigators including Dr. Adam Atchley (Los Alamos National Laboratory, RC18-1346), Dr. Louise Loudermilk (U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station, RC-201736), Dr. Matt Hurteau (University of New Mexico, RC-2118), Dr. Melissa Lucash (University of Oregon, RC-201702), Dr. Jinxun Liu (USGS, RC-201703), and others followed with presentations on their ecosystem process models. The integration of their models into installation management and planning processes have successfully helped natural resource managers account for wildfire risk within forest management, balance prescribed fire with carbon sequestration, and predict how climate change may lead to sudden ecological transformations. In the second session, workshop leaders sought input across all stakeholder groups on gaps in research to predict mission and management impacts under potential climate futures and drivers for future scenarios. Their input will be codified into a strategic plan that will be posted on the SERDP and ESTCP website. 

"All of the work that we're doing is to make sure we can accomplish the larger DoD mission," said Hon. Brendan Owens, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment, during an interview at the workshop. "There's a really foundational understanding that if we don't have resilient infrastructure – and that is built and natural infrastructure – our Warfighters cannot do their jobs." 

Through continued collaboration, SERDP- and ESTCP- funded projects will ensure new science and technology are accessible to installation managers and will help ensure a resilient future for DoD installations. 

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About SERDP & ESTCP 

The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) harness the latest science and technology to improve the Department of Defense’s environmental performance, reduce costs, and enhance and sustain mission capabilities. The programs respond to energy and environmental technology requirements across the military services. SERDP and ESTCP are independent DoD programs managed jointly to coordinate the full spectrum of research and development efforts, from the laboratory to field demonstration and validation. For more information, visit https://www.serdp-estcp.org. Follow us on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn