April 22, 2020

Military Readiness Strikes Balance with Community Growth in Utah

UTAH COUNTY, Ut. — Today, The Conservation Fund, in partnership with the Utah Army National Guard and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), announced the permanent protection of roughly 400 acres of working agricultural land near the Camp Williams National Guard training site just south of Salt Lake City. This partnership supports Camp Williams’ training mission by maintaining the grassland area around the base as working agricultural lands, prohibiting future incompatible development, and preserving a migration corridor and habitat for mule deer and other wildlife.

In recent years, Salt Lake and Utah Counties’ rapid population growth has introduced subdivisions near Camp Williams, impacting certain training abilities and posing risk to the surrounding communities and wildlife. In order to meet operational needs while staying sensitive to nearby residents, Camp Williams works with The Conservation Fund and other partners through the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program to place conservation easements on open space properties neighboring the base. To date, more than 2,000 acres of this buffer land have been protected through the partnership, preserving the natural and agricultural uses of the land, and prohibiting development that could interfere with Camp Williams’ training mission.

“This accomplishment is truly a win-win for military readiness, land conservation, community growth, and more,” said Brigadier General Tyler B. Smith, Assistant Adjutant General for Army, Utah Joint Force Headquarters. “Protecting the viability of current and future training operations at Camp Williams, while simultaneously guiding community growth, sustains the environmental and economic health of the region and protects public health and safety. We’re thrilled by the success of this initiative.”

The Conservation Fund currently holds two easements on property owned and managed by GSF Farm Ground. The landowner, Jim Smith and his family, have worked with the Fund for decades to preserve their agriculturally- and environmentally-valuable farmland in a way that also benefits military operations. This is the third conservation easement purchased between The Conservation Fund and the Smith family, totaling more than 600 acres. The properties provide key habitat for thousands of mule deer, which use the landscape and surrounding area for migration corridors, breeding grounds and winter range land. The Conservation Fund plans to convey the easements to Utah Open Lands, who will hold and manage them in perpetuity.

“Few other places in the country have seen more advanced development than in Utah along the Wasatch Front, and finding a solution that accommodates that growth and still enables ongoing training at Camp Williams while protecting the surrounding environment is a great accomplishment,” said Mike Ford, southwest director at The Conservation Fund. “This could not have been possible without the enthusiasm of the Utah National Guard and the NRCS, with support from Jim Smith and his family.”

Federal funding for this conservation effort was made possible by the National Guard Bureau, the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program and the NRCS’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Authorized by Congress, the REPI program supports cost-sharing partnerships between the military services, private conservation groups, and state and local governments to remove or avoid land-use conflicts near installations. REPI funding provides critical support for Camp Williams’ ACUB program. It is the first easement within Camp Williams’ larger conservation efforts that also received funding from the NRCS. The U.S. Congress annually funds the REPI program and reauthorized the NRCS ACEP in the 2018 Farm Bill. The Utah Congressional delegation representing Camp Williams includes U.S. Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney and U.S. Representative Ben McAdams.

“This conservation easement shows that agricultural values, environmental benefits, and military missions go hand in hand. Through our wonderful partnerships, we can find that common ground and develop solutions to accomplish so many benefits for this great nation,” said Emily Fife, NRCS’s Utah State Conservationist.

“The success of this initiative is two-fold,” U.S. Senator Mitt Romney said. “While supporting our military readiness at a time when the U.S. faces increased threats around the world, this initiative will also ensure that communities continue to have a voice in the management and conservation of their lands. I applaud the work of The Conservation Fund, the Utah Army National Guard, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in forging this partnership that will benefit our state greatly.”

“I am pleased to see stakeholders come together to find creative solutions that will benefit our entire community. This effort will preserve open space and support the critical mission of Camp Williams and benefit the daily lives of Salt Lake and Utah County residents while strengthening our state’s defense capabilities,” said U.S. Representative Ben McAdams.

Funding for this project was also provided by the State of Utah. Utah legislation (H.B. 257) established this property as part of the “West Traverse Sentinel Landscape,” a designation used for lands of high ecological and agricultural value that are near the nation’s military installations. To build upon the state designation, the West Traverse Sentinel Landscape will also be seeking federal designation as a Sentinel Landscape. Conservation of the GSF Farm Ground property is widely supported by State elected officials and champions.

The landowner, Jim Smith, and his family said: “As the members of the Grant Smith Family, we are very appreciative of the partners that made this easement possible. We feel an urgency for the importance of our troops having the best training possible, as they fulfill their mission on our behalf. We are grateful to play a part in this cooperative project to protect that mission, and to leave a legacy of open lands for our posterity. This has been a multi-year project, and we are very appreciative for the way our partners tirelessly worked through the challenges. Now, in perpetuity, there is an open land buffer for the training at Camp Williams, as well as a space that our children and grandchildren can enjoy as the rest of this valley fills in with housing. I am confident that these buffer areas could be the only significant open land in this area in the future.”

Home to the Utah National Guard, and utilized by Army Reserve and Active Duty soldiers, Camp Williams consists of 23,850 acres of combat training areas with desert and mountain terrain. When the camp was officially established in 1914, it was surrounded by nothing but open space, with the nearest metropolitan area—Salt Lake City—roughly 30 miles north and little in between. Today, several developing communities are pushing against the camp’s borders, posing operational risks to those communities and the base. This partnership is a critical step in finding the middle ground between expanding communities, active military base operations, and environmental conservation.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including more than 117,500 acres in Utah.

About Utah National Guard
The Utah National Guard was officially organized in 1894 and is currently headquartered in Draper, Utah. Currently, the UTNG consists of more than 7,000 Soldiers and Airmen with the vast majority serving their country on weekend duty while living and working in civilian careers within their local communities.

About USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Agricultural Land Easements
The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural landowners to conserve natural resources through conservation easements and conservation practices. Agricultural Land Easement program, under ACEP, protects working agricultural lands and limits non-agricultural uses of the land.

Val Keefer | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5802 | vkeefer@conservationfund.org
Paul Raymond | Utah National Guard | 801-755-9517 | praymond@utah.gov
Pedro Ramos | USDA-NRCS | 801-524-4552 | pedro.ramos2@usda.gov