The Snowy Plover
What about environmental protection for Marines?...
[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 12/7/05
would probably agree that the military services put considerable
effort into being good neighbors and friends of the environment.
To these ends, they have established and maintained expensive
and manpower intensive programs to comply with laws and regulations
designed to protect the environment. When the military commits
to a program, it does so with its characteristic enthusiasm,
which usually goes beyond an effort to just barely comply.
the cost and effort put into compliance can negatively impact
other priorities more closely related to mission, such as training
and readiness. At some point, it is incumbent upon senior civilian
leaders to set reasonable standards for compliance and to determine
when the cost in dollars and manpower exceeds the benefits
derived. The standards should be not only reasonable but based
on reputable science.
J.F. Kelly, Jr.
Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive
who writes on current events and military subjects.
He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]
It is a proven
fact that realistic training involving live firing saves lives
combat. As the commander of the Navy’s
Southwest Region, Rear Adm. Len Hering recently put it, “There
can be no substitute for training. While there is (also) no substitute
for combat experience, effective, realistic training is, surprisingly,
quantifiably more valuable. For example, the ratio of enemy aircraft
shot down to U.S. aircraft lost in aerial combat in Vietnam improved
from less than 1-to-1 to 13-to-1 after the Navy established its
Navy fighter weapons school, popularly know as Top Gun.”
Local, state and federal laws and regulations have significantly
reduced military access to aerial training ranges, sea operating
areas and other training terrain on military reservations in
Southern California, severely limiting the ability of the services
to engage in live firing exercises. This can and undoubtedly
already has resulted in increased combat losses.
Let’s be clear
about one thing. The issue is not whether or not the military
should practice conservation in exercising
stewardship over its reservations. They should and they do, demonstrably
better than most large commercial enterprises. The issues are
to what degree, at what cost and whether double standards exist.
Facts and figures clearly show that the Navy Department is a
leading force, perhaps the leading force, for conservation in
this area. In fact, it appears to be a victim of its own success.
Almost three quarters of the Least Terns residing in San Diego
County, for example, were hatched on Navy land. Not the smartest
creature in the animal kingdom, this bird is fond of building
its nests on runways and other hazardous areas and has been largely
spared from its self-destructive habits by the Navy and Marine
Corps, at considerable expense, I might add, to the taxpayers.
Most of the puddles now referred to as vernal pools located in
San Diego County were sacrificed with little fanfare as a result
of commercial development. About 90% of those remaining are located
in Miramar and Camp Pendleton. Live exercises at Camp Pendleton
must routinely be modified to avoid large areas subject to environmental
Similarly, the use of the Navy beaches on the Silver Strand
is hampered by environmental restrictions. These facilities are
vitally important to SEAL training. Unfortunately, they have
been deemed even more important to Snowy Plover procreation,
resulting in lost SEAL training days during nesting season.
When the Navy obtained San Clemente Island from the Commerce
Department, it was an ecological disaster, its foliage having
been denuded by goats brought in to control its growth. The Navy
spent millions on recovery programs and goat relocation. Far
from giving the Navy credit for its monumental conservation efforts,
however, the public mainly sympathized with the goats. (Anyone
who has ever watched a Navy football game knows full well that
the Navy would never harm a goat.)
About ten endangered species still remain on the island, requiring
another decade of goat-friendly effort and expense. Meanwhile,
because of environmental restrictions on the use of San Clemente
for night illumination firing, over 80% of San Diego-based ships
deploy without completing all required live firing training.
With the recent loss of the Vieques range as a result of activist
protests, no alternative facilities now remain for shore bombardment
Beyond the protection of critters and obscure plants and organisms,
mostly unknown to ordinary people, there are other requirements
which not only add dearly to the cost of military operations
but which are not even supported by reputable science. An example
is a requirement to collect storm water drainage from naval bases
that cannot be discharged into San Diego Bay unless it passes
a toxicity test with a 90% invasive species survival rate. Navy
data, however, clearly demonstrate that this standard cannot
distinguish between storm runoff from its bases and that from
local civilian parking lots.
The cost for the Navy to bring four bases into compliance with
this dubious standard is estimated at $312 million. Is this really
what we want to spend scarce defense dollars on? Is anyone else
besides the armed forces being held to the same environmental
2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.