VIENNA — Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks visited the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape in Vienna on April 22 on the 51st anniversary of Earth Day to highlight the Sentinel Landscape partnership there. At locations designated as sentinel landscapes, a multi-agency and multi-departmental partnership connects private landowners with government assistance programs that fund land protection and natural resource restoration projects. By aligning these programs in sentinel landscapes, the departments of defense, agriculture and the interior use taxpayer dollars more efficiently and accomplish more on the ground with fewer resources. Environmental conservation groups in the region are interested in preserving the wetlands and natural habitats that surround the Nanticoke. But there’s broader interest, as well, in preserving larger sections of the region — not just to keep agriculture strong, but to preserve the Navy’s use of that airspace for testing and flying aircraft. A big part of that preservation effort is DOD’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program. The program allows the military services to partner with state and local governments to preserve land use around military installations and ensure DOD’s continued ability to train in those areas. If agricultural land inside the bounds of the Atlantic Test Range, where Naval Air Station Patuxent River tests aircraft, is opened to commercial or residential development, the Navy may no longer be allowed to fly over those areas. Ensuring the Navy’s continued use of that airspace is one of the key responsibilities of the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape Partnership. In the Chesapeake Bay area, REPI helps fund the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape Partnership, which involves a multitude of state, local and environmental organizations in addition to DOD, DOI and Agriculture. “We all work together to advance a set of shared land-use goals around our military installations and ranges,” Kristin Thomasgard, REPI director, said during a gathering of conservation partners in Vienna on Thursday. “Over the six-year lifespan of the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape Partnership, we’ve been able to see just how valuable these partnerships can be.” She said REPI has been able to leverage about $17 million in DOD funding with over $88 million in federal, state, local and private funds to protect more than 50,000 acres of land within the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape Partnership area of concern and enroll 131,000 acres of land in technical assistance programs that lead to sustainable land-use practices. “What this really demonstrates to me is that together we have been able to achieve outcomes that go far beyond what we can do individually,” Thomasgard told partners. “Through this remarkable investment, this partnership has been able to sustain local, historical, agricultural, and fishing traditions; to protect critical forest habitats; improve community resilience to climate change; and to strengthen military readiness at one of the Navy’s most important aircraft testing locations in the country.” Funding from REPI helps support the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape Partnership’s efforts to preserve agriculture in the area, maintain natural habitats, and keep Navy aircraft flying, Hicks said. “That’s why programs like REPI are so important for how we think about maintaining the quality of our training environment, the longevity of our assets and also the relationships with the communities that we work so closely with that surround our installations,” she said. Use of the airspace that makes up the Atlantic Test Range is at the heart of the mission at NAS Patuxent River, where airborne research and development testing help bring aircraft — including the F-35 Lightning II — into the Navy.