It may be hard to believe, but some of the most underdeveloped land within major metropolitan areas, or within a few hours drive of those areas, are old Army posts. The most prominent of these old posts is the Presidio of San Francisco, stuck in the middle of the city of San Francisco. This post was scheduled to closed in the first BRAC, and irony of ironies, the environmentalists sued to keep the Army from relinquishing control of the post because they knew that the land, turned over to the city or state of California as designed by the BRAC, would be sold to developers. The several thousand acres of underdeveloped land would be worth billions of dollars to a developer. Instead, the federal government kept the land, transferred it to the National Park Service, and under a fairly complex set of rules, the Presidio has become a huge asset to San Francisco. The Presidio and hundreds of other old posts dotting the US have been saved from development while the rest of the areas outside of the posts have become suburban or even urban, leaving really cool islands of nature within our midsts.
Much like the Presidio, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, once home to millions of gallons of toxic chemical weapons, is now a National Wildlife Refuge within the confines of greater Denver. Free-ranging buffalo herds are starting to emerge in some of the last native prairie grasslands in the US.
Further east, in the state of New York, at the old Seneca Army Depot, there is a herd of very rare white deer. Because of the fence around the depot, designed to keep people out, the deer within the depot were genetically separated from the whitetail deer outside the fence, and the recessive gene for white fur has been allowed to come to the forefront. These are not albino deer, which would have pink eyes and pink noses. They are normal deer except for the white coat. These deer Seneca are the largest population of white deer in the world, and if managed correctly, can become a point of ecotourism in an area that has very little ecotourism previously.
There were a lot of arguments about the BRAC process and its impact on the military when it was first introduced as a way to cut costs for the maintenance of the military infrastructure in light of the end of the Cold War. Many opponents of the BRAC process were worried that the closing of some of the smaller posts would have enormous negative economic impact on the towns around them. Some of that has come true, I'm sure. The town just outside of Fort Devens, MA, was about ready to dry up and blow away when I was stationed there as one of the last units. But it seems that there was very little recognition of the fact that many Army posts had unique properties that could not be found elsewhere. Large tracts of land had been put aside with the idea that they would be valuable in the case of a large WWII like expansion of the military, and these lands had remained mostly people-free. On posts like Aberdeen and Seneca, there were actual areas fenced-in that had huge signs warning any trespassers, civilian and military alike, that deadly force was authorized should you stray past the fence. Deer, eagle and wild turkeys passed through without challenge.
The last BRAC in 2005 recommended the closure of some bases that should be pretty cool to see turned into park lands. NAS Brunswick (Maine) and NAS Oceana (Virginia), Galena FOL (Alaska) to name a few. It would be interesting to see what the overall environmental and economic impacts of these closures, of all the BRAC closures, will be in twenty years, and compare them with what was predicted back in the mid-90s.