For wilderness, look to a wasteland

Select DOD and DOE sites in the West

  • Sources: Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Energy, World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Journal of Arid Environments


Joint Base Lewis-McChord
Size: 90,600 acres
Main activity: Training and mobilization
Ecological claims to fame: Includes some of the largest relics of native prairie left in South Puget Sound. Today, most of the 150,000 acres of prairie that once blanketed the area have been consumed by agriculture and development.

Beale Air Force Base
Size: 23,000 acres
Main activity: Reconnaissance
Ecological claims to fame: Contains a number of seasonal wetlands called vernal pools, habitat for endangered fairy shrimp. It's estimated that California's Central Valley has lost more than 90 percent of its vernal pools.

Naval Station Coronado -- San Clemente Island
Size: 37,000 acres
Main activity: Support for weapons research and development
Ecological claims to fame: Home to a number of endemic species, including the endangered San Clemente loggerhead shrike, one of the rarest birds in North America.

Camp Pendleton
Size: 125,000 acres
Main Activity: Amphibious Marine Corps training
Ecological claims to fame: The largest undeveloped expanse along the Southern California coast, Camp Pendleton supports 16 threatened or endangered species, and three of the four known populations of Pacific pocket mice. The installation is also home to Southern California's last free-flowing river, estuaries and rare coastal sage scrub habitat.

Nevada Test Site
Size: 880,000 acres
Main activity: Weapons testing
Ecological claims to fame: Includes portions of the Mojave and Great Basin deserts as well as a broad transitional zone between the two. The test site is one of only a few large, intact pieces of sagebrush habitat left in the Great Basin, and a population of threatened desert tortoises resides in its Mojave stretch. Nuclear testing fouled about 7 percent of the land; the remaining 93 percent exhibits little if any impact from grazing, mining and recreation. 

Idaho National Laboratory
Size: 569,135 acres
Main activity: Nuclear energy research
Ecological claims to fame: The lab is a federally designated national environmental research park, where scientists conduct ecological research to understand long-term change in natural systems and the impact of human activity. The lab showcases a relatively undisturbed sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, habitat for pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, pygmy rabbits and burrowing owls. More than 400 plant species and 269 vertebrates have been identified there.

Barry M. Goldwater Range
Size: 1.8 million acres
Main activity: Live-fire combat training
Ecological claims to fame:  Part of the largest contiguous chunk of Sonoran Desert habitat left in the U.S. The installation contains a significant portion of the endangered Sonoran pronghorn antelope's U.S. range.

Dugway Proving Ground
Size: 798,214 acres
Main activity: Biological and chemical weapons testing
Ecological claim to fame: Considered one of the “most important protected areas in the Great Basin,” Dugway Proving Ground is home to a relatively unscathed system of sand dunes, rare habitat that is easily disturbed by human activity.

Fort Carson and Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site
Size: 373,273 acres
Main activity: Combat training
Ecological claims to fame: Covers native shortgrass prairie habitat, more than half of which has been lost in Colorado. Fort Carson shelters declining species like mountain plovers, black-tailed prairie dogs and several rare prairie plants.

Los Alamos National Laboratory
Size: 28,000 acres
Main activity: Nuclear weapons and defense research
Ecological claims to fame: Boasts five vegetative zones and more than 900 plant species. Endangered southwestern willow flycatchers and threatened Mexican spotted owls are found at the lab.

Kirtland Air Force Base
Size: 52,000 acres
Main activity: Nuclear weapons management
Ecological claims to fame: Supports the second largest known breeding population of gray vireos in New Mexico. The birds are listed as threatened species in the state.

pinon cyn maneuver site
bill schiffbauer
bill schiffbauer
May 17, 2010 08:09 PM
Pinon Cny Maneuver Site also has extensive
rock art sites which the Army actively
protects. Spent a day this week touring some with the Colorado Rock Art Association. This base should be commended
for their willingness to allow access.
Pinon Canyon
Doug Holdread
Doug Holdread
May 21, 2010 01:12 PM
The Army "appears" to be a good steward of Pinon Canyon but this pretty face is only skin deep. First of all, since 9/11 public access has been quite limited. I used to get an annual pass for $15 which allowed me to access the incredible canyon country along the Purgatoire River. After 9/11 public access, except for scheduled, guided tours became impossible. While it is true that the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site consists of fragile and vanishing shortgrass prairie, it is NOT true that the Army is preserving this ecosystem. It it's pretty obvious that tracked vehicles and live fire are not the best ways to preserve a delicate natural environment. The Army likes to pretend that it is taking better care of the land the ranchers that they forced off the land back in the early '80s, but in truth the prairies need large ruminants, like the buffalo herds of the 19th century and the cattle of the 20th century to break the hard crust and to fertilize the land. The Army has planted non-native grasses which look nice and green but are foreign to the shortgrass prairie and serve as mostly as fuel for the huge fires which have blazed under the Army's tenure. A bio-diversity study conducted by CSU's Colorado Natural Heritage Program indicates that flora and fauna are flourishing, not so much within the maneuver site, but on private property outside the fence line. Recently the Army has initiated an effort to use previously off-limits archaeological sites at Pinon Canyon as mock Afghan villages. These structures are part of our Colorado history and are eligible for National Historic Register designation and would suffer irreversible damaged if used for military training. So while the Army is good at giving themselves environmental awards for their stewardship of Pinon Canyon, behind their PR face things are not so pretty.
Pinon Canyon Manuever Site Expansion
Steve Wooten
Steve Wooten
May 25, 2010 08:10 AM
We raise cattle adjacent to the Pinon Canyon Manuever Site. We remember the dust storms that occured over our region when the army trained with mechanized equipment on the site in the early 1980's. We have seen first hand the destruction of the fragile grama grass by the equipment. Once torn out of the soil, grama grass is one of the most difficult grasses to reestablish in the short grass praitie ecosystem. Did you know that as tax payers you paid for the contractors who repaired the soil and reseeded the destruction caused by the army? When the Department of Defense was forced by Congress to comply with enviromental management of their lands the mechanized training at the site was halted. Why? The area was suddenly to fragile for the Army to use it as they intended when they condemned it from the ranchers who in fact managed the land in a sustainable manner for multiple generations. Today the Army wants to appear green and envoironmentally correct. Where it not for oversite the army would not have spared this portion of the ecosystem. What the Army likes to refer to as their management is actually a complete defferement of mangement. They have large areas on the site that are encroached with noxious weeds that overflow on to adjacent private property,there fires have burned neighboring properties. The short grass ecosytem evolved from centuries of grazing by large ruminants and today oveer 330,000 acres have been altered by complete defferemnt of this critical portion of the ecosytem balance. Be very aware of "drinking the Kool-Aid" from the Army's PR rhetoric. There is vast information about this site in SE Colorado at