Monday, May 09, 2016

The Navy's Bad Attitude

The Navy has been fighting an inside bureaucratic war against the US Fish & Wildlife in an effort to bend and then break federal legal protections for endangered wildlife.  Conservation organizations have been forced to fight the Navy for years over the harm their weapons do to all sorts of marine creatures, notably, whales and other sonar capable species.  Now, Navy emails leaked from an inside source to TruthOut show that the Navy is trying to redefine "harm" to wildlife so it can deploy what it calls "distributed lethality", jargon for an increased use of massed firepower to thin enemy defenses, regardless of the impact on wildlife like marine birds.  Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are prohibited from actions that would "take" a protected species.  "Take" is a legal term that is broadly defined under the Act and includes actions that would harass, harm or wound.  Marbled murrelets are a protected diving seabird living in the old-growth forests of the Northwest that would be harmed by increased Navy jet noise and sonar use.

Indicative of its attitude that it is above environmental laws because of its "national security" role, the Navy pressured biologists at the US Fish and Wildlife in emails from August and September 2015 to alter their biological opinions in ways that would benefit the Navy's increased used of weaponry in training exercises.  The emails contain offers to complete biological opinions in the final impact statement for its Northwest Testing Range that spans the west coast from Alaska to California; specifically the Proposed Action section in which the agency proposes official policy based on its findings.  The Navy has already received a permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to take over 1.2 million marine mammals in the northwest Pacific as a consequence of its war training activities.  In their communications Navy personnel pushed for approval of the final impact statement from NFWS via a waiver from an assistant secretary of the Navy, thus giving itself permission to harm protected species and circumvent the consultation role of NFWS. Navy personnel even suggested using a non-peer reviewed student thesis to support higher sonar levels for marbled murrelets.  It also wanted to eliminate temporary hearing loss from the definition of harm under the Act according to the leaked emails.  Some Navy activity, such a pier-side sonar systems and pile-driving is still unpermitted, yet the Navy continues to perform these activities in contravention of wildlife legal protections.

A former endangered species biologist commented that the Navy's pressuring tactics are intended to knowingly circumvent environmental laws and policies intended to protect species endangered by man's activities including Navy weapons training.  The Navy's attitude is often belligerent towards activists attempting to obtain Navy compliance with established environmental standards.  Its bad attitude towards environmental compliance is demonstrated by the fact that it wanted to use forty-two year-old data for the impact of air blasts on birds.  The Navy has also refused to allow NFWS trained civilians aboard its ships to monitor impacts on wildlife during training exercises, yet it allows civilian fitness instructors to be aboard.