Western Washington: Navy SEALs extend training 8 weeks longer in sensitive habitat areas, exclude wildlife agencies

From West Coast Action Alliance

February 23, 2016 – New documents show Navy SEALs training 8 weeks longer than previously thought: Federal wildlife agencies excluded.

1 Where the Birds are - arcgis viewer

Where the seabirds are. The darker the color, the more birds. See key below for actual numbers, but in the purple grids there can be more than 3,000 seabirds in a 2-mile area. Click image to enlarge it.

2 Where the birds are - key

This is what’s happening on 68+ beaches and State Parks in western Washington:

3 SEALs coming ashore

An email and an internal draft of a biological assessment obtained by the West Coast Action Alliance reveal the Navy’s intent to extend their secret and massive SEALs training program on 68+ beaches and Washington State Parks from January 1 to May 31, 2016, and to bypass consultations with federal wildlife agencies. The two Navy slide shows previously obtained by Truthout (12,) had indicated the training would start in mid-January and conclude in mid-April.

Springtime is when places like the Salish Sea are vital for nesting birds. Nursing whale mothers don’t like disturbance, either.

A photogrammetry image of the entire I16 matriline of Northern Resident killer whales taken in 2014. This image shows the size of whales at different ages. Note the small, gray calf in the middle (I144), only a few months old, swimming to the right of its mother (I51). To the left of the mother is the calf’s older sibling (I129). Images to be used for health assessment. Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken by UAV from above 90 feet under Fisheries and Oceans Canada research permit and Transport Canada flight authorization. More information at http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/podcasts/2015/10/uav_killer_whale.html

A photogrammetry image of the entire I16 matriline of Northern Resident killer whales taken in 2014. This image shows the size of whales at different ages. Note the small, gray calf in the middle (I144), only a few months old, swimming to the right of its mother (I51). To the left of the mother is the calf’s older sibling (I129). Images to be used for health assessment. Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium.

These documents, from December 2015, contradict the statement made by a Navy spokesperson in January, who said: “As far as I know, everything is in the very, very beginning planning stages, period. There has been no decision made on anything. Everything is speculation at this point.”

Read it for yourself. Does this look like “beginning stages?” Is it speculation? The Navy doesn’t waste its time doing biological assessments for “speculation.” The purpose for this one was to justify avoiding consultations with federal agencies. It was done 15 days before the training was to start. That’s not enough time to do anything but try to cover one’s legal backside.

list of training sites for 2016 is included. Which means the other training sites in the two slide shows were for previous years. Which means decisions have been made, and it’s game on. From reading the multiple documents and in the absence of further information from wildlife agencies, it should be assumed that the SEAL combat training has been taking place in these areas since 2014.

5 plover nest

What some nests look like. Think they’ll see that in the dark?

According to the Navy’s internal biological assessment, the purpose of the training is “to provide a “real world” environment for Special Forces personnel to practice stealth tactics” (translate: in civilian communities) and “to maneuver in the water and across land undetected.” It acknowledged that by law the Navy must assess impacts to endangered species, and it laid out three choices: No effect; May affect; and May affect, likely to adversely affect. It also acknowledged the requirement to consult with federal agencies if any impacts were anticipated; this obligation extends to assessing impacts to Essential Fish Habitat, under the Magnusen-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and consulting with the State and with the National Marine Fisheries Service if any impacts are anticipated.

6 Plover on nest

A plover on its nest on the beach.

The “problem” was neatly solved by the Navy claiming in its internal biological assessment that since there would be no impacts, there would be no need to consult with the agencies. That equaled no notification at all. A call to the Fish and Wildlife Service in January confirmed that they had had no idea that the massive SEALs training program was about to begin for 2016, and no idea that it had been occurring since 2014. The FWS confirmed a keen interest in consulting with the Navy about potential impacts.

7 Salmon habitat

UW map showing critical habitat for Chinook Salmon, Steelhead Trout, Chum Salmon, and the Puget Sound Chinook Salmon. And the Navy didn’t bother to tell wildlife agencies?

Some logical conclusions:

  • One would think that commandeering 68+ beaches and State Parks from January 1 through late Spring might affect nesting birds and other sensitive species, and therefore be of interest to wildlife agencies.
  • One might rightfully question the Navy’s own expertise in assessing impacts to wildlife, since it has called whales “obstacles to safe navigation” in reports and says the purpose of its Joint Land Use Plans with communities is to ensure the Navy’s own activities continue unimpeded.
  • Given that the Navy refuses to allow wildlife agencies to assist them with the training they need to recognize sensitive species, one might question the above even more.
  • One would be correct in assuming a public process is required in order to close off access to public lands. The answer to “Aren’t such arbitrary and unannounced closures outside the law?” is yes.
  • Even if they get in and out undetected, it’s still psychologically intrusive for users of those beaches and State Parks, the mission for which includes not one word about “Realistic Military Training.” It’s disturbing to think of having armed Navy SEAL kill teams practicing in the midst of families enjoying their State Parks. (Read the two slide shows to confirm the fact that these teams will be armed.)
  • We should all be questioning the “wisdom” of normalizing military combat training in civilian communities where it does not normally occur.

So, after all this, could anyone claim with a straight face that the Navy is even trying to be a good neighbor?

8 CL_Birds_Puffin_byCHansonOCA

Tufted puffin, a species in decline. Photo credit: C. Hanson.

Obviously, not everything the Navy does can be public knowledge. But to conceal such a massive program from state and federal agencies is inexcusable. While the West Coast Action Alliance is not against training our military, we object to doing it in the places where we live, work, and recreate. We object to concealing it from appropriate oversight of state and federal agencies. And the fact that public informed consent is completely absent from any of the Navy’s massive encroachments on our communities and the wildlife in this region merely adds insult to injury.

Navy SEALs training 8 weeks longer than expected, wildlife agencies excluded

U.S. Navy’s massive war games in pristine Gulf of Alaska — wildlife and ocean be damned

The war “games” run from June 15 – June 26, 2015.

War Games Set to Begin Today in the Pristine Gulf of Alaska
by Sonia Luokkala – June 15, 2015
Earth Island Journal

As the Navy unleashes 6,000 personnel for training exercises, local communities protest impacts on wildlife and fisheries

Today the US Navy plans to unleash 6,000 sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard members along with three Navy Destroyers, 200 aircrafts, untold weaponry, and a submarine to converge in war games in the Gulf of Alaska. The training exercises are scheduled to continue through June 26.

The Navy’s choice of the Gulf of Alaska – one of the most pristine places left on Earth, and at the peak of migration and breeding periods of marine life – has left locals baffled and upset.

In the last month, protests have been held in Cordova, Kodiak, and Homer, Alaska. Emily Stolarcyk, a program manager with the Eyak Preservation Council, an environmental and social change organization based in Cordova, says local communities have never before united in such a way, pointing to the 100-plus fishing vessels that joined the protest against the Navy.

“It was incredible to see the commercial fleet turnout and unite like that with tons of support from people on shore as well,”
she says.

Regional tribal villages have also been vocal in their opposition, worried that the Navy’s trainings could affect their subsistence foods. Several tribes have passed resolutions opposing the trainings and others are requesting formal government-to-government consultations regarding the plans. Local people are also concerned about the possible impacts on marine life.

According to Stolarcyk, the Navy has not been receptive to these concerns. “The Navy is refusing to negotiate at all with local communities,” she says.

The Navy has conducted Northern Edge training exercises in Alaska every two years since 1994. In 2011, the Navy expanded the scope of their training exercises and the use of the highly controversial low-frequency active sonar was authorized for the first time. The 2013 training was cancelled due to the federal government’s budget crisis.

The Gulf of Alaska training area includes more than 42,000 nautical miles of surface and subsurface waters. The area of impact spans more than 8,429 nautical miles, including Alaskan Marine Protected Areas and NOAA designated Fisheries Protected Areas

Residents of Homer, Alaska have been vocal in their opposition to the Navy’s war games in the Gulf of Alaska.

The pristine waters of the Gulf of Alaska provide critical habitat for over 383 species of marine life. Its nutrient-rich waters call forth as many as 20 different species of whales every summer, including three different species of elusive beaked whales that are especially sensitive to the effects of the Navy’s active sonar.

Training exercises will be carried out simultaneously with the key breeding and migratory season for marine life in the area, including five species of Pacific Salmon that return from the ocean to lay their eggs in the rivers and streams of their origin.

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