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Saving The Snowy Plover
What about environmental protection for Marines?...

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 12/7/05

Most citizens 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.

Sometimes 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.

J.F. 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 in 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 restrictions.

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 training.

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 standards? CRO

copyright 2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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