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Papers Link Pentagon to Easing Species Act
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<-- Return To 21st Century Warfare

Related: Unraveling the Living World: Leakey Warns of Mass Extinctions (double what he predicted in 1997)

Source: Common Dreams.

Published on Thursday, August 23, 2001 in the Seattle Times

Going Backwards
Papers Link Pentagon to Easing Species Act
by Kenneth R. Weiss and Deborah Schoch

The Pentagon is moving toward asking Congress to rewrite the Endangered Species Act and other laws so that military-training exercises can be exempted from restrictions to protect sea turtles, desert tortoises, shore birds and other rare creatures, according to documents leaked to the press.

Surrounded by urban sprawl, military reservations with expanses of open country have become de facto wildlife refuges for rare and endangered species.

In a series of congressional hearings this year, military leaders complained of environmental laws, urban sprawl and other constraints. Officials contend the armed forces are being penalized for being good stewards of their land, that laws are obstructing their plans to drop live bombs, to fire weapons, maneuver tanks and conduct war games and other exercises designed to keep troops ready.

The documents note that military lands provide habitat for more than 300 species listed as threatened or endangered.

"We are definitely moving out with action plans," said Rear Adm. Larry Baucom, the Navy's director of environmental protection. "We are looking at the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act."

Baucom said these laws are "fairly vaguely written" and subject to widely differing interpretations.

"It's a matter of balance," he said. "How do we balance our environmental stewardship with training and maintaining national security?"

The answer proposed by Defense Department documents, leaked by an environmental group made up of former government employees, is to rewrite the Endangered Species Act so the secretary of defense could "grant exemptions for reasons of mission readiness."

A memo and slides from a presentation carrying the Department of Defense seal recommends the department work with Congress to reauthorize the act with reforms that:

Delete all references to "critical habitat";

Allow increases of "incidental take," meaning harassment or death of endangered species, when federal agencies can demonstrate an increase in the species' population;

Shorten time limits for environmental review and require consultation with wildlife agencies only when a military activity "may adversely affect" a protected species, rather than current language that requires a review when such activity "may likely affect" the wildlife.

Glenn Flood, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday he could find no one familiar with the documents.

"This document exists but whether it's an official Department of Defense document, I'd have to say it's not, based on what I've heard," Flood said. "I haven't talked to the top people. But the worker bees, who are doing these things, aren't aware of it."

Yet Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the group that released the documents, said they were leaked by a military official helping prepare the recommendations to be delivered to Congress this fall.

"Nobody should be surprised that this is happening," said Dan Meyer, the group's general counsel and a former Navy lieutenant. "It's entirely predictable to come out of the Bush administration, as a way to weaken progressive environmental rules of the Clinton administration."

Copyright 2001 The Seattle Times Company

Related: Unraveling the Living World: Leakey Warns of Mass Extinctions (double what he predicted in 1997)

<-- Return To 21st Century Warfare

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