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Pentagon Seeks Clarity in Environmental Laws Affecting Ranges

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2003 – At Fort Stewart, Ga., home of the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), heavy tanks coexist with endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. The San Clemente Island Range complex in California is home to the even more endangered San Clemente Island loggerhead shrike -- and a Navy ship-to-shore live-fire range.

For military commanders who live and die by the motto "Train as We Fight," the ability to do so is becoming ever more difficult. Environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act are making training areas harder to find, and encroachment is putting ranges off- limits to the military's heavy equipment, gunfire, artillery shelling, bombs and loud noises.

Paul Mayberry, deputy undersecretary of defense for readiness, is concerned that many environmental restrictions are putting the nation's military readiness at stake.

"We don't train for profit, we train for the readiness of our forces," he said. "To be able to respond to the president -- to go anywhere, anytime and to conduct any mission -- is directly related to the readiness of our forces."

Mayberry said the Pentagon introduced initiatives before Congress this month targeted at getting clarification for some environmental laws that it feels limit the military's ability to train.

Last year, through the Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative, Congress granted the Pentagon a temporary exemption to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that allowed the "incidental taking" of endangered birds during bombing and other training on military lands. Congress also agreed with two "positive land" provisions that enable the services to establish buffer zones around military installations.

This year, DoD is asking Congress to clarify the following federal laws:


  • Endangered Species Act. Confirm an existing policy (under court challenge) that provides that DoD cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans may make the designation of critical habitat on DoD lands unnecessary.


  • Marine Mammal Protection Act. Follow the National Research Council recommendation that the current, ambiguous definition of "harassment" of marine mammals, which includes "annoyance" and "potential to disturb," be focused on more biologically significant effects.


  • Clean Air Act. Provide more flexibility for the DoD in ensuring that emissions from its military training and testing are consistent with state implementation plans under the act. The change would allow DoD and the state up to three years to accommodate or offset emissions from military readiness activities. Mayberry said the provision is essential both to basing of vital new weapon systems and to the repositioning of forces to best meet U.S. needs.


  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. Provide flexibility for DoD regarding the firing of munitions on operational ranges while clarifying regulatory authority when the range closes or munitions constituents migrate off range.

"In no way do the clarifications that we are seeking relieve us of our responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act or the Clean Air Act," Mayberry said. "What we are looking for are specific clarifications as to how they relate to military activities. We will continue to be good stewards, just as we are now and have been in the past. We are not seeking total relief from any environmental statutes."

For the Defense Department, championing good environmental stewardship on its 25 million acres of public land is a high priority, he said. Environmental and endangered species laws affect every military installation in the United States and abroad. The Army alone is host to 153 endangered species of plants and animals on 100 of its domestic installations. DoD-wide, the count is about 300 protected species.

But there's nothing easy about having to protect so much land while using it for military training, not exactly a delicate activity, Defense Department officials maintain.

Mayberry said that the Endangered Species Act, for example, has the potential to designate 56 percent of Camp Pendleton, Calif., off-limits to military training -- the primary Marine Corps mission there since the camp's birth in World War II.

The Navy faces similar problems. The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act has been used in third-party lawsuits to stop the deployment of low- frequency sonar the Navy uses to track quiet diesel submarines. Some scientists suggest the sound is responsible for causing whales to ground themselves ashore.

Mayberry noted the Endangered Species Act also affects other locations. "Critical habitat" was proposed for 65 percent of the ranges at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, north of San Diego and is already in place over 70 percent of Fort Lewis, Wash., where the Army has based a new Stryker brigade combat team. Critical habitat increasingly restricts military activities or places needed land out of bounds to training activities, he said.

"When you try to apply absolute, inflexible rules, what we have are no longer training ranges and installations but wildlife refuges and wilderness areas," Mayberry said. "What we need, and the Department of Defense seeks, is greater flexibility for our particular applications. We have to ensure we can maintain the military uses of our installations and how they were originally designated for training requirements."

In a report March 6 to the Senate Armed Service Committee, Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, said the Pentagon is also addressing the effects that encroachment is having on military training.

"Encroachment" is the department's term for intrusive civilian development of areas adjacent to military installations and the many side effects that result. As communities spring up and surround bases, both humans and wildlife create environmental pressures.

Mayberry said that military installations aren't as isolated today as they once were. Today, commanders must attend to their neighbors' complaints about night maneuvers, artillery and aerial bombardments, low-flying aircraft and other peculiarly military commotion. Also, as developers destroy their habitat, ordinary and endangered wildlife become increasingly restricted to the relative wilderness of nearby military reservations.

He said the department hopes that by cooperating with local and state governments and private community groups, more effective plans can be drawn to control growth around military training ranges.

Those actions, in Congress and communities, Mayberry said, will help DoD to preserve habitats for endangered species and limit the development of land to uses that are compatible with military training and testing activities.

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