2004 Science, Technology and Environment

Diane Drigot

Developed national award-winning natural resource conservation program that integrates military training, environmental protection, public involvement and sustained community support.

Most people probably think of “Department of Defense environmental protection” as an oxymoron. Dr. Diane Drigot, however, has shown that the strategic interests of military base leaders and the conservation needs of the surrounding communities are far from mutually exclusive. In fact, she has proved that they can be quite compatible.

For the past 22 years, Dr. Drigot has demonstrated this compatibility at a Marine Corps training base in Hawaii. Her job, as the Senior Natural Resource Management Specialist at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, is to ensure that the Corps’ activities do not run afoul of environmental protection laws. Her passion is to develop practices that not only help the Corps better train its Marines, but also simultaneously improve the local ecosystem.

The Department of Defense now requires more than 400 military bases with significant natural resources to prepare Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans (INRMPs). In 2001, Dr. Drigot codified her unique approach to natural resources management into an INRMP for MCBH to satisfy this requirement. Her approach had already earned an award-winning reputation for MCBH as an exemplary environmental steward and numerous personal commendations for Dr. Drigot from diverse agencies.

What distinguishes Dr. Drigot’s work is her holistic approach. She weighs every relevant factor into her decisions: the best science, local cultural values, financial costs, regulator relations, military training needs and educational opportunities for all ages. Time and again, she has managed to balance a full range of elements, creating win-win situations for all parties involved. She has found ways for diverse publics to find common ground and work together toward more productive harmony with each other and the land. In finding effective solutions to what at first glance may appear to be competing demands on environment and training, Dr. Drigot has also managed to involve the Marines more with the public and to help all military service members understand that their responsibilities do not stop at the fenceline, no matter where they are stationed. That involvement and commitment has paid enormous dividends and will continue to do so.

An example of Dr. Drigot’s creativity is her work to protect the Hawaiian Stilt, an endangered waterbird located only in Hawaii, including at wetlands within MCBH, Kaneohe Bay. Excessive growth of pickleweed—an invasive, non-native groundcover plant—was threatening the habitat of the stilt and needed to be removed. Drigot devised an annual training exercise whereby the Marines used 26-ton amphibious assault vehicles to stamp down the pickleweed within the wetland mudflats inhabited by the stilts. This practice, which has now been used for two decades, enables the birds to more readily nest in the area and the Marines to accomplish valuable amphibious vehicle maneuver training. Since Drigot’s practice began, the number of stilt counted in MCBH’s wetlands has nearly tripled, growing from 60 to 160 birds (10% of Hawaii’s total stilt population).

Dr. Drigot has also led a successful 20-year effort to remove 25 acres of invasive mangrove—a major non-native pest plant problem in Hawaii’s wetlands, including those on the Marine Base. The removal of this plant from on-base locations improved the health of the local ecosystem, and opened up a previously inaccessible areas for public environmental education, military training exercises and running routes for the Marines.

One aspect of Dr. Drigot’s efforts that is truly remarkable is the degree to which she has been able to foster cooperation in Hawaii among a wide diversity of groups—military leaders, regulators, developers, local non-profit pro-environment groups, educational institutions and local residents. Through her community-based conservation strategy, Drigot ensures that everyone’s concerns are respected, and that policies are developed and implemented by these groups’ working together. Her personal commitment and long-term presence at the Marine Corps base brought these parties together initially and continue to facilitate their cooperative efforts.

The legacy of an environmentalist is typically a habitat, wetland or ecosystem that he or she worked to protect. In this instance, Dr. Drigot has not only changed the environment in Hawaii and military environmental protection practices nationwide; she has changed people. Her current military supervisor, Major Robert Rouse, estimates that, over the years, more than 50,000 Marines—and thousands of local school children—have gained a better understanding of their responsibilities as stewards of the environment by working directly with and/or learning from Dr. Drigot. Her legacy is one that will likely bear positive results for generations to come.