For the Birds Radio Program: Department of Defense vs. Birds and the Environment
The Pentagon is trying to get a bill passed that would exempt them from complying with many environmental laws. A Bush administration lawyer even made an argument that shows just how out-of-touch the current administration is, saying that bird lovers benefit when the military kills birds because “bird watchers get more enjoyment spotting a rare bird than they do spotting a common one.”
Department of Defense
The US Department of Defense is one of the biggest landholders in the nation, holding 25 million acres in Military Lands. Their land holdings harbor an array of habitats in relatively pristine condition, often serving as buffer zones between military operations and the public. They include Merritt Island, in Florida, which is one of the most pristine shoreline areas remaining on the Atlantic coast, some of the last undeveloped lands in Hawaii, where seabirds such as Laysan Albatrosses breed, and Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Water needs from Fort Huachuca are already placing heavy demands on the San Pedro River, a congressionally-designated national Riparian Conservation Area, and one of the richest biological reserves in all North America. The San Pedro River has been recognized as the first “Globally Important Bird Area” and one of the world’s premiere birding spots. It provides habitat for more than 400 bird species, and is a critical stopover for nearly one-half of all migratory birds in the United States. As it is already being dewatered as a result of the current water consumption demands of Ft. Huachuca, further water diversions threaten the River’s survival.
While the mission of the Department of Defense is to provide for our national security, each base conducts land management planning to conserve and rehabilitate natural resources and manage wildlife, habitat, and recreational use. Because so many military installations are on coasts, and because of the necessity of keeping people away from sensitive operations, military lands tend to be far more undeveloped than most land, and as a matter of fact, they contain the most federally listed threatened and endangered species of any agency, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But on Wednesday, November 13, the Senate passed and sent to President Bush a piece of legislation designed to give the Defense Department an exemption from the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which protects hundreds of species of birds from harmful practices. The Pentagon, which had sought broad exemptions from eight landmark environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The new rules would give the Defense Department an interim exemption from the MBTA and would direct Interior Secretary Norton within a year to come up with regulations permanently exempting military readiness activities from the law. The Pentagon and its supporters in Congress argued that environmental laws have been inhibiting training at bases across the country and on the waters offshore. Conservation organizations argued strongly against the MBTA changes, calling them unnecessary and harmful to migratory birds. The Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based environmental organization, had sued the Defense Department because the Navy conducts bombing exercises on the small Pacific island Farallon de Medinilla. Many birds are killed during those exercises, including some protected by the MBTA, such as the Micronesian Megapode, which is on the endangered species list, the Magnificent Frigatebird, and three types of boobys—Masked, Red-footed, and Brown.
During the case, one Bush administration lawyer made an argument that shows just how out-of-touch the current administration is, saying that bird lovers benefit when the military kills birds because “bird watchers get more enjoyment spotting a rare bird than they do spotting a common one.” Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican president who more than any U.S. president in history was a conservationist, must be turning in his grave.