US Navy Sued over Plans for War Games on Pacific Islands
July 28, 2016
Caleb Jones / Associated Press and ENews & The Center for Biological Diversity
Community members and the earthJustice environmental group have sued the US Navy, the Department of Defense and the Secretary of Defense over a plan to turn two Pacific islands into live-fire testing sites for training exercises. The Pentagon's plan calls for using the islands of Tinian and Pagan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for military war games.
Groups Sue over Navy's Plan for War Games on Pacific Islands
Caleb Jones / Associated Press & ENews
HONOLULU (July 27, 2016) -- Community members and an environmental group sued the US Navy, the Department of Defense and the secretary of defense Wednesday over a plan to turn two Pacific islands into live-fire testing sites.
The plan calls for using the islands of Tinian and Pagan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for military war games.
Earthjustice attorneys, who are representing complainants including the Center for Biological Diversity and local community organizations, argue the training would disrupt Tinian communities and prevent Pagan's native people from returning to their home island, which was evacuated 35 years ago after a volcanic eruption.
The groups filed the lawsuit in federal court in Saipan.
They allege the Navy failed to consider all of the potential effects on residents and the environment as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, and it didn't weigh more suitable locations for the war games.
The military already uses a small plot on Tinian for sniper training, the lawsuit says. The small island has about 3,000 residents, mostly low-income indigenous Chamorro people.
Expanding military training there would expose residents to "high-decibel training noise, permanent loss of 15 percent of the island's prime farmland soils, destruction of cultural and historic sites, and severe restrictions on access to traditional fishing grounds, cultural sites and recreational beaches," the lawsuit says.
Calls seeking comment from the Navy and Defense Department were not immediately returned.
Pagan, meanwhile, would become a "militarized wasteland," attorneys said.
The training would destroy native forests, coral reefs and wildlife on the remote volcanic island. And the indigenous Chamorro and Refaluwasch families who once called Pagan home would be prevented from returning, attorneys said.
Cinta Kaipat of PaganWatch, one of the groups suing, said she has family members who had to flee Pagan when the volcano erupted in 1981.
"Many of us want to return," Kaipat said. "For those who lived there, Pagan remains their homeland. We do not want to see it obliterated by the military."
Earthjustice attorney David Henkin said the military decided to move about 5,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam in 2010, then in 2013 said it needed more training space. The Navy provided a draft environmental impact statement on its latest plan last year, he said, and a final report is expected in 2018.
In 2010, the US Fish and Wildlife service asked University of Hawaii professor Michael Hadfield to conduct research on Pagan. He and some colleagues went to the island and did an inventory of its plants and wildlife.
They found many endemic species as well as endangered tree snails and fruit bats. But they also noted that archaeological sites prove human habitation on the island dates back more than 2,000 years, he said.
Legal Action Launched to Protect Kauai's
Seabirds From Kokee Air Force Base's Bright Lights
Center for Biological Diversity
LIHUE, Hawaii (June 28, 2016) -- The Center for Biological Diversity today sent a formal notice of intent to sue the US Department of Defense, US Air Force, and Kauai's Kokee Air Force Base over a series of incidents in 2015 and 2016 that harmed and killed Newell's shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels, two birds protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Artificial lighting on the base disorients the birds causing them to either collide with the lights or crash in neighboring areas. Once grounded, the seabirds are unable to become airborne again and are killed by nonnative predators like cats and pigs. Unshielded, poorly designed lighting has been one of the main causes of decline for these two endangered seabirds.
"Kokee Air Force Base has become a very dangerous place for these two endangered seabirds -- it's got to stop," said Brett Hartl, the Center's endangered species policy director. "The base's slow response and careless actions have significantly set back the recovery of these two species. They need immediate action to permanently protect them from this unnecessary risk."
More than a dozen Newell's shearwaters were killed by Kokee Air Force Base in September 2015, and more than 100 were injured. During the same series of "fallout" events, at least one Hawaiian petrel was killed.
Many of the remaining birds that were grounded were adults and needed to be taken to the Save Our Shearwaters rehabilitation facility. These adult birds may not have been able to return to their nests during the 2015 breeding season, and as a result their chicks likely did not survive either.
"These beautiful native birds deserve better than to die or get injured by flying into these lights," Hartl said. "The federal government is in charge of protecting endangered species across the country but sadly they're failing these endangered birds on Kauai."
The Newell's shearwater was protected as a threatened species in 1975. Its main breeding grounds are in the mountains of Kauai, although small populations are found on Maui and the Big Islands of Hawaii. Known by the Hawaiian people as the 'a'o for the moan-like call it emits when in its burrow, the bird is a small shearwater with a glossy black top contrasted by a striking white underside.
It is estimated that the Newell's shearwater's population has declined by 75 percent over the past few decades due to introduced mammalian predators, light pollution and collisions with power lines.
The Hawaiian petrel was protected as endangered in 1967. The petrel is known to breed only within the major Hawaiian Islands of Kauai, Lanai, Maui and the Big Island. This rarely seen petrel is among the ocean's most wide-ranging marine species, and its regular voyages take it as far north as the offshore waters of Alaska and California. The petrel is known by the Hawaiian people as the 'ua'u for its haunting, nocturnal call.
In spring 2010 the Center and its allies filed notice of intent to sue the St. Regis Princeville Resort -- as well as the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative -- over some of the bright lights that were harming these two species. In a resulting settlement, St. Regis Resort agreed to change its lighting and contribute to the conservation of these seabirds.
In 2011 the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a five-year permit detailing the actions the utility must take to reduce the number of imperiled seabirds it kills and injures each year and to offset unavoidable harm.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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