WASHINGTON — Climate change is a national security issue, the U.S. Department of Defense says.
Pentagon officials found a few years ago that more than two-thirds of the military’s mission-critical installations are threatened by climate change — including all of those in Hampton Roads.
Flooding tied to sea level rise and sinking land is a primary concern, as well as extreme heat and potential drought.
Bases in Hampton Roads and throughout the state are now part of the Virginia Security Corridor, a new partnership to fight those threats.
It’s part of a larger program called Sentinel Landscapes that was developed about a decade ago, said Zack Greenberg, an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts, which is one of the nonprofit partners.
It’s “really about maintaining and creating space,” he said.
The Defense Department owns about 28 million acres of land, making it the fifth-largest government landowner.
“For the military, these lands and waters – those are a real asset,” Greenberg said.
Officials use that space for training and military exercises. But it can also have significant ecological and social value, he said.
For example, forested or marshy areas around military bases can help lessen flood risk by absorbing excess water.
The goal of the federal program, Greenberg said, is to “operate at the intersection” of military readiness, outdoor recreation and climate change adaptation.
The new Virginia corridor, which spans nearly 3 million acres, includes a new Tidewater “sentinel landscape” anchored by Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton. Marine Corps Base Quantico helms the new Potomac landscape.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in a statement the partnership “seeks to prevent encroachment on military missions, increase working lands, build resilience against climate-induced hazards, conserve key habitats, benefit water quality, and protect threatened species.”
A key advantage of the program is that it opens up new funding opportunities for environmental projects, Greenberg said.
In eastern North Carolina, the Marine Corps is working to install living shorelines at some of its facilities.
Other efforts could include buying land for conservation from private owners and reducing flooding on key roads around military bases.
The DOD has identified over 200 miles of roadway in Hampton Roads as critical, Greenberg said.
Officials want to preserve those roads long-term, not only for the military, but also for access to basic community services like hospitals, utilities and schools.
Greenberg said the landscape designation comes with federal money to hire a new coordinator who will wade through the complexities of climate solutions.
“Climate change is an all-hands-on-deck challenge,” he said.
In addition to the Joint Base in Hampton, Tidewater’s landscape includes Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Naval Air Station Oceana and NSA’s Northwest Annex.