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By Carlos B. Pangelinan

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 17) – Guam's local Soil and Water Conservation Districts are pulling strings in Washington, D.C., with the hope of influencing plans related to the impending military buildup on Guam.

The group, consisting largely of local farmers, aims to ensure that the conservation of natural resources is at the forefront of planning by the Department of Defense. The conservation group has engaged its national-level counterparts in the U.S. mainland and federal officials to assist.

At the invitation of local district members, a high-ranking U.S. Department of Agriculture official was on island to discuss the buildup, and other issues, at a meeting yesterday of conservation representatives from throughout the region. The Pacific Basin Association of Conservation Districts Business meeting took place at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa.

Gary Mast, the federal agency's deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment, who also oversees the nation's National Resources Conservation Service, said he plans to speak with officials from Department of Defense on their plans for Guam.

"We want to make sure that the land uses and the pressures put on the natural resources are well planned out, that the local folks have a say on how things proceed as far as their interest in the resources," he said.

National Association of Conservation Districts President Olin Sims was also in attendance and said local conservation districts can participate in Department of Defense's land-use planning as cooperating agencies under the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to coordinate with such organizations.

"The (local) districts, I think, have a wonderful opportunity in front of them to seek cooperating agency status from the Department of Defense; to bring that local perspective to the table as (Department of Defense) develops their plans for expansion," Sims said.

Joanne Brown, a soil and water conservation liaison with the University of Guam, said some of the issues being raised by local soil and water conservation districts include the buildup's impact on water and water quality and ensuring that the local agriculture industry is part of the buildup process.

Guam Southern Soil and Water Conservation District Chairman Benny San Nicolas added another concern is the increased amount of traffic to Guam that may result in an increase of invasive species, which can have a negative effect on local agriculture and the environment.

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