San Diego Union-Tribune

March 21, 2001

Bases caught in environmental squeeze, top officers say
Wildlife regulations can hinder training
 

By OTTO KREISHER
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON -- Camp Pendleton, Miramar and military bases across the country are battling an environmental Catch-22 that is hampering training, senior officers from the four services told Congress
yesterday.

Because bases frequently contain the largest undeveloped space in increasingly urban areas, the installations become havens for endangered species. But the presence of those protected animals or
plants subjects the bases to environmental restrictions that can sharply limit training, the officers told a Senate Armed Services Committee panel.

Air quality rules, noise complaints from housing areas that are encroaching on previously remote bases and competition with civilian air traffic for limited air space also are affecting military training and,
therefore, combat readiness, they testified.

Those factors are particularly at play in Southern California, where accelerating urban congestion and environmental sensitivities are affecting the primary training areas for the Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific.

"We must, as best we can, duplicate the environment we will face on the battlefield," said Maj. Gen. Edward Hanlon, commanding general at Camp Pendleton.

But because of urban encroachment and "unintended consequences of well-intended laws," Hanlon continued, "it becomes more and more difficult to duplicate the realistic training environment."

Although the subcommittee chairman, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and other GOP members supported the military officials' complaints, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., gave them contrary advice.

"The military needs to recognize that the nation's environmental laws are not just another enemy," Kennedy said, after discussing groundwater pollution caused by an Army training area on Cape Cod.

Hanlon noted that 70,000 acres of Pendleton's total 125,000 acres were threatened with being shut down as critical habitat for three endangered species found there.

At Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to designate 65 percent of the base, "including the runways and supporting aviation facilities," as critical habitat for two
endangered species, he said.

Hanlon and the other senior officers urged Congress to consider the impact on military readiness when it enacts environmental laws.

"To restore the right balance, we need your support," Vice Adm. James Amerault, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, told the readiness subcommittee.

The officers said the U.S. military spends $900 million a year in efforts to protect, nurture and enhance endangered wildlife.

For example, the Marines remove eggs of endangered sea turtles from the training beaches at Camp Lejeune, N.C., hatch them in an incubator and release the baby turtles when they're mature enough.
The Navy runs a similar program on Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Camp Pendleton pays wildlife specialists to watch out for its extensive population of protected animals, birds and plants. Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg, N.C., and other bases in the Southeast protect the red
cockaded woodpecker.