Navy clears another hurdle: USFWS Biological Opinion signed.

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The endangered short-tailed albatross is found in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Unfortunately, the Navy will be bombing and conducting missile and gunnery exercises there.

This is a long post, but you ought to know the details. The Navy is a step closer to full war operations in two areas:

1.) The Electronic Warfare Range it established without public comment over Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and

Site locations on Forest lands for EW

Electronic warfare mobile emitter locations. Unlike the 2014 environmental assessment, this time the Navy did not erase major map features like important rivers and Lake Quinault.

2.) Vast increases in war operations in Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and coastal and offshore waters.

NWTT action area

Offshore areas of naval war activities overlap with a National Wildlife Refuge, Olympic National Park, and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, as well as Tribal usual and accustomed traditional places.

After a delay of 10 months, the US Fish and Wildlife Service signed a Biological Opinion on July 21, covering all proposed activities in the Navy’s Electronic Warfare Environmental Assessment and the Northwest Training and Testing Final EIS. Permits for incidental take of threatened and endangered species managed by the USFWS, specifically bull trout, marbled murrelets, short-tailed albatross, and possibly northern spotted owls, are likely to soon follow. The Navy will issue its Record of Decision later this month, and will have its Fait Accompli despite the fact that to the public, this is anything but case closed.

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The federally threatened bull trout occurs in waters impacted by Navy activities. The FWS said “current information is inadequate for determining population status and locations of most spawning sites.”

MAMU Credit ONP

The federally threatened marbled murrelet lives here, too. The total population in 2001 was 8,936; in 2015 it was 4,290.

This Biological Opinion was thoroughly researched and is a combination of retrofitting the missing biological data to support the “finding of no significant impacts” of the Navy’s 2014 Electronic Warfare Range Environmental Assessment, plus a detailed evaluation of the Northwest Training and Testing Final EIS, on what happens to these specific endangered and threatened species when exposed to explosions, sonar, and other threats at sea. No non-listed species are evaluated in a Biological Opinion, so remember, if the FWS calls effects of explosions and sonar on bull trout “insignificant,” don’t automatically interpret the same result for salmon or halibut or other fish not mentioned.

The FWS did us all a favor by going into a lot of detail; the document is a great learning tool, however depressing it is to read. However, a Biological Opinion is just that—an agency’s opinion, so unless the FWS can clearly show that the Navy’s proposed activities will place a species in actual jeopardy, or danger of extinction, it’s difficult for a small agency to resist the immense pressure the Navy has no doubt been applying. And what pressure would that be?

You may recall that just before the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing Final EIS was published in October 2015 without a public comment period, the Navy was busily trying to convince the FWS that temporary hearing loss, behavior changes, and other impacts on animals and birds that are not visible or obvious injuries should not be considered a form of harm. This is in direct opposition to both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. A series of email threads (1, 2, 3) obtained from a whistleblower demonstrated the level of the Navy’s determination to undermine the Endangered Species Act by reinterpreting the definition of harm for their own benefit. In the emails they offered to write portions of the Biological Opinion and refused most mitigation measures, including having FWS train their observers. The normal “lifespan” for a Biological Opinion is 5 years, and the FWS asked the Navy to limit it to that. Nope, said the Navy, it’s 20 years. What are the chances that these calculated “probabilities” for species impacts will be accurate in 2036?

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A marbled murrelet takes off in calm conditions.

The Navy also insisted on drawing a clear line between permanent and temporary “Threshold Shift,” a fancy name for hearing loss. Their long-held position, that temporary hearing loss and behavior changes are not harm, is explained in this letter to the superintendent of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The problem is, where do you draw the line on hearing loss for species that depend on hearing for survival? How do you know what damage is permanent and what’s temporary, in a rare, tiny and secretive marbled murrelet? Answer: you don’t, but if you’re the Navy you insist the FWS use a 1974 study by the military on domestic chickens, ducks and geese to calculate “probabilities.” Weight differences alone, never mind the wildness factor, would invalidate such measures. The FWS was obviously forced to come up with another method.

Pop density for MAMU

Where marbled murrelets have been found along Washington coasts. While they spend 90% of their lives at sea, they also fly inland to nest, sometimes more than 50 miles. They prefer old-growth forests.

What do the species that depend on hearing do for protection from predators while recovering from not being able to hear properly? Recovery can take hours, days or weeks, and may or may not be a full recovery. And what about repeated noise or explosive events as opposed to one or two? In the case of marbled murrelets, which are on the endangered species list and spend 90% of their lives on or in the water from along the coast to 50 and even 250 miles offshore, it’s not so easy to know what’s temporary and what’s permanent harm when it comes to exposure to undersea and in-air explosions, plus sonar, plus jet overflights. However, the law clearly spells it out: harassment is harm, and according to the FWS, so is any “Threshold Shift.”

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Marbled murrelet on its nest.

 

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Marbled murrelet egg in nest.

On jet noise, the Navy promised (and the FWS repeats in the Biological Opinion) that the jets do not fly lower than 6,000 feet above sea level, but news flash: anyone who lives, or stays at hotels and lodges, or walks the beaches and low-elevation forests of the West End knows from deafening experience (videotaped) that when you can read the numbers on jet fuselages when you’re at sea level, they’re not flying at 6,000 feet. In fact, a FWS biologist reported being concerned about a Growler jet flying so low and near the camera drone her team was testing to photograph wildlife on offshore islets, that there was a potential collision danger. That low swoop, not unusual at all, was probably within the prohibited “threshold distance” of harassing wildlife and causing stress effects like producing fewer young. Will the Navy respect the self-imposed boundaries it gave to the FWS as evaluation criteria? It’s violating them already.

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Marbled murrelet chick blends in with surroundings.

And what about the report from a fly-fisherman on the Hoh River, that the forest all around him was “humming like an electrical transformer”? Concerned, he left the forested river area immediately. He has a wife who’s pregnant, and after that experience they’re worried for their unborn child’s health and are thinking of leaving the area permanently. And sonic booms? Expect more of them – not just from Growlers but also from surface-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, and surface-to-surface gunnery exercises.

The Incidental Take Permit for marbled murrelets will likely allow for a total of approximately 112 birds to be “taken” by the Navy over the next 20 years in offshore areas; in inland waters where explosions and a massive amount of pile-driving is occurring, the FWS did a separate consultation with the Navy; we don’t have those numbers because the FWS no longer puts consultations that are public record on its web site, and the Navy usually requires that citizens file a Freedom of Information Act request before releasing any public records. You have to be really determined to get information from our government these days. Maybe 112 murrelets over 20 years does not sound like a lot, but murrelets are extremely secretive birds and the Navy has refused to let the FWS train its observers, so how will they know when they’ve reached their take limit? And if they do, will they admit it, or will they count only obvious, visible injuries as take?

When it comes to “no significant impacts,” the Navy promises a lot, but they, not us, get to define what’s “significant” and what’s not. Sneaking a major controversial document past the public (the 2014 Electronic Warfare EA) so that nobody was aware of it and nobody commented on it guaranteed they got to define “significant” on that one. Later, when we found out, hearing them tell us that in essence we’re all complicit because we didn’t comment, was a confirmation of flat-out cheating.

So, how can we trust the Navy to honestly adhere to the non-discretionary Terms and Conditions of this Biological Opinion? (page 272.) We can’t. Since the Navy already argues with the established legal definition of harm, and since there’s no incentive for them to be honest with us or with wildlife agencies, and since they have the entire congressional delegation kowtowing, well good luck with honesty.

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Gunnery exercise.

And the mitigation? Here it is: Develop a plan to search for and remove derelict fishing nets, and develop a plan to fund offshore removal of plastic debris. That’s all good stuff, but nowhere near enough mitigation when you consider the total population has gone from 8,926 to 4,290 in 14 years. The FWS probably asked for much more mitigation, and was probably refused.

Seabird exposure to projectile stressors

A visual on the estimation of seabird exposure to stress from projectiles such as missiles. Would you want to be sitting in any of these squares? Let’s just call this diagram “projectile dysfunction.”

Another fact that does not jibe is that the Navy gave the FWS “modeled sound levels at a range of altitudes that will result from operating the EA-18G [Growler jet] at three different power settings (78, 85, and 93 percent power.)” [Page 209.] “Unfortunately,” continued the FWS, “none of the power settings in the proposed action (80, 82, and 89 percent power) were included in the modeled SEL [sound exposure level] data” provided by the Navy. Which meant that the FWS had to extrapolate. They came up with a noise exposure threshold for murrelets that limited the jets to 80-89% power settings at altitudes from 2,000 to 6,000 feet. When you compare this restrained scenario to the fact that the EIS shows aerial combat maneuvers (dogfighting) are slated to increase by 244%, and that such flying often involves intensely loud afterburners using 12,000 gallons per hour at full power, it’s hard not to question: did the Navy give the FWS all it needed to truly evaluate noise exposure?

Regarding underwater stressors such as sonar and explosions, the FWS accurately points out, “Although affected murrelets may survive their exposure…, they are likely to have a reduced level of fitness and reproductive success and have a higher risk of predation. Exposed individuals may also experience: lethal injuries that occur instantaneously or over time; direct mortality; lung hemorrhaging; ruptured livers; hemorrhaged kidneys; ruptured air sacs; and/or coronary air embolisms. Murrelets that experience TS [Threshold Shift] are expected to have damaged hair cells in their inner ears and, as a result, may not be able to detect biologically relevant sounds such as approaching predators or prey, and/or hear their mates or young attempting to communicate. Murrelets that lose their hearing sensitivity are at increased risk of predation and reduced foraging efficiency. Some affected murrelets may regain some or all of their hearing sensitivity; however, they are still temporarily at risk while experiencing TS.”

FWS also remarked indirectly on the November 2015  Biological Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service by saying that despite NMFS asking the Navy to wait until the time of year when salmon abundance is at its lowest, there is “no guarantee” that the Navy would accommodate such a request during Explosive Ordnance Disposal training.

Orcas breaching

Guess who eats salmon? Our Southern Resident Killer Whales.

The Navy’s at-sea war operations discussed in this EIS will primarily be in Washington’s inshore, coastal and offshore waters. Marbled murrelets are found from northern California to Alaska. In Washington, nesting habitat is the big issue, so any efforts to ensure reproductive success are a priority. Although murrelet numbers in general are declining, the Washington population is going down five times faster than elsewhere. We doubt any biologist would agree that a population decline of 5.1% to 7.7% per year in Washington is sustainable, yet the FWS concluded, “the Service determined that this level of anticipated take is not likely to result in jeopardy to the marbled murrelet.” What does this mean? That eventual extirpation (local extinction) of this bird in Washington waters is acceptable in trade for militarizing the region, because it’ll still be found elsewhere? What do we do when the Navy wants the “elsewhere,” too? How do we justify throwing away the money American taxpayers have paid for recovery of species that the Navy doesn’t seem to mind bombing in peacetime?

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Virginia-class submarine.

There’s much more on impacts, and we haven’t discussed the bull trout or short-tailed albatross yet, but let’s use an analogy for marbled murrelets: Suppose you’re having dinner with a romantic partner in a super-cool restaurant called the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Suddenly someone walks in and starts firing a cannon. You’re both going to stop eating, run for the nearest exit, and you probably won’t return to that place for awhile. Your blood pressure will rise and your ears might bleed or hurt from the noise if you’re not in the blast zone and are killed outright, but you won’t know how badly damaged your ears are for awhile. You’ll feel stressed and afraid, and any thoughts of romancing your partner will be gone. Now imagine that happening regularly and frequently over the next 20 years, in the places you eat, gather and rest. Got the picture? War games are no games for birds, whales, seals or fish. Or the people over whose heads the Navy is conducting them.

So tell us please, Navy, how do you propose to monitor any of these impacts to murrelets and other species when you won’t allow independent observers aboard, and, according to your emails, you won’t even allow your own observers to be trained by the agency with wildlife expertise?

The FWS did its homework and included so many citations it’ll take awhile to find and read them. But some sources they used are not the strongest evidence on which to base conclusions. None of the three citations for the chapter on the northern spotted owl, for example, actually studied the northern spotted owl or its habitat in the Pacific Northwest. They studied the much larger Mexican spotted owl, in New Mexico and Colorado. There is not enough peer-reviewed research on the northern spotted owl, so the FWS had to extrapolate. The southwestern habitats that these three studies evaluated are rocky canyons and forests, while the northern spotted owl prefers old-growth forests with dense canopy closure. One southwestern study evaluated helicopter and chainsaw noise, which are different from jet noise, but there is no jet noise study on northern spotted owls. Ironically, the FWS is evaluating the northern spotted owl for downgrading its status from threatened to endangered, but there’s no funding for new research.

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What a sonic boom looks like. Growlers and missiles make these.

Another study extensively cited was an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed Air Force evaluation of jet noise on Mexican spotted owls in Colorado. It contained a lot of information the FWS found useful, but that study evaluated noise from F-16s and Tornados, not Growlers. The maximum sound intensity of those jets is far quieter than a Growler. An F-35, for example, is similar to a Growler, and has 126 times the maximum sound intensity of the F-16. The human ear perceives that 126 times more intense, or higher pressure, sound as being more than four times louder. Therefore, it is possible that the Air Force study along with the incomplete Growler sound levels provided to the FWS by the Navy, combined with their proposed increases in aerial combat and electronic warfare, caused an underestimation of the actual level of sound exposure.

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Northern spotted owl.

So the public should ask itself: Would federal wildlife agencies allow this level of peacetime harassment and injury of threatened and endangered species to any organization except the military? Would they accept this much “direction” and interference from anyone but the military? Would a National Park that’s also a World Heritage Site be so powerless to stop the ruin with any other entity but the military?

Who has the power to stop it but remains mute? Our congressional delegation, that’s who. Every one of them is so pro-military that they are happy to throw anyone and anything in the Navy’s way under the bus.

Let’s put it another way: Should the public be forced to sacrifice this much of our natural heritage during peacetime in return for spending more than 55 percent of all federal discretionary funding on a military that behaves so disrespectfully? US military expenditures are greater than the next ten largest countries combined, yet the Pentagon has not been able to pass a federal audit since 1994 and cannot account for trillions of dollars. Do we therefore believe that the Navy will admit accountability when the degradation of the most biologically rich and diverse rainforest and National Park in the United States becomes even more obvious? Or when whales no longer visit our waters in the numbers we’re used to?

Where does it stop? With a sustained, informed public effort that tells our so-called representatives that we’re mad as hell, we’re not going to take it anymore, and we are going to remind them of that during this election year.

Say No

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July’s Court Decision on Navy Sonar: What Does it Mean?

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August 4, 2016 – First: the 9th Circuit Court’s does not mean the Navy is stopping its use of sonar. The Navy has publicly said the ruling has “no impact” on its current activities. It means the case, argued on fairly narrow but powerful terms, is going back to trial in the lower court. However significant this decision is for the protection of marine mammals, it is not a done deal yet and we will cautiously wait to celebrate until after the trial. WCAA has no information on the new trial. But we applaud the Natural Resources Defense Council’s astuteness and unwillingness to back down.

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Towed sonar array schematic.

Here’s what happened: On July 15, 2016, the 9th Circuit Court granted an appeal filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council that reversed a lower court decision upholding NOAA’s 2012 approval for the Navy to use low-frequency sonar for training, testing and routine operations. Specifically, this case was about the Navy’s towed low-frequency sonar array, which is so powerful that there are only 4 ships doing it, in 4 separate oceans. It’s for surveillance, and each sonar blast is at least 215 decibels and lasts for sixty seconds. It’s low-frequency so the noise travels for thousands of miles. Guess what animals are low-frequency hearers? Whales. The court did not address the Navy’s other sonar use in this decision, but it did make a distinction between peacetime and wartime use, in effect saying to NMFS, the law says you have to mitigate in peacetime, and you didn’t.

The effect of blasting so many of Earth’s oceans with this much surveillance sonar all the time would be like blindfolding every one of you and saying ‘Now go find food, avoid getting hit by cars, try to stay with your family, and by the way, here’s a big headache for you that will last forever.’

SURTASS towed sonar array

The Navy’s low-frequency towed sonar can reach every corner of the ocean.

The Court found that NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner by ignoring habitat requirements for mitigation under the law. In other words, they were supposed to have done a lot more than they did to help the animals whose welfare they oversee. By their actions (or lack thereof) NMFS and the Navy were in effect saying an animal that needs to hear to find food can survive just fine with impaired hearing and without a protected place in which to find it. This has been proven wrong again and again in the courts over decades. You would think NMFS might do everything it can for whales, given the other stresses they are under (climate change, ship strikes, pollution, etc.)

Dead whale on beach

The Court found that NMFS violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s “least practicable adverse impact” standard when they eliminated 70 percent of candidate Offshore Biologically Important Areas from consideration. It’s well known that not enough data exist for these offshore areas, so NOAA scientists wrote a white paper saying that specific areas of the ocean should be protected anyway, even if we don’t have the data, because what we do have shows they are important. NMFS could have listened to its scientists, but instead it chose to eliminate the potential Offshore Biologically Important Areas that didn’t have enough data, from consideration. This was of course to the Navy’s benefit. NMFS used the rationale that “no data means it’s unimportant.” They ignored their own scientists, and in fact the white paper was never factored into NMFS’ decision to grant the Navy its permit until after the fact, when someone “discovered” it.

Finally, the Court found that there is a bias toward establishing Offshore Biologically Protected Areas in the US over other countries, and that “unless an area is within 12 miles of the coast or designated as an Offshore Biologically Important Area, there is minimal mitigation of Level B harassment.” Meaning, too many places where marine mammals migrate are not protected and the Navy can blast away at will.

The case has been remanded back to the lower court for trial. In the meantime, the Navy has responded that this decision will have no impact on its current activities.

But it’s not just whales being harmed. According to a 2012 complaint filed by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, “High-intensity sound has been shown to reduce the viability of fish eggs and to cause developmental damage in young fish. Intense sound can kill eggs, larvae, and fry outright or retard their growth in ways that may hinder their survival later. It has also been shown to injure the ears and lateral lines necessary for hearing in adult fish. Intense sound may also have harmful resonance impacts on fish with swim bladders, particularly larger pelagic fish such as tuna. Because fish rely on hearing to locate prey and avoid predators, affects to their hearing both impair their ability to find food and increase their vulnerability to predation.”

We will post more on this subject. In the meantime, we should all consider this a big, but conditional, win for the whales.

2 orca breach

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When millions of acres aren’t enough

Burning money

July 5, 2016 – According to a 2014 report from the US Congressional Research Service, there are more than 4,800 US Department of Defense (DOD) sites worldwide that range in size from small parcels (less than an acre) to the 3.1 million acres of the Nellis Air Force Range in Nevada. A 2012 report from the same source said that 4,127 of these sites are within the 50 states and US territories. Recent news and research reports peg the number of US bases on foreign soil as of 2015 at around 800, in approximately 80 countries. These numbers don’t quite add up because no one really knows the exact figures.

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Military bases worldwide

13 DoD bases & ranges in US

Military bases in US lower 48 states

According to the 2014 Congressional Research Service report, the DOD owns 14,477,496 acres of land in the United States and its Territories, or 22,621 square miles. Much of that acreage is in the West. Interestingly, the 2012 report shows DOD having 5 million more acres in 2012 than it did in 2014. Reasons are not immediately evident, and this writer could find no news stories of DOD divesting itself of that much land. Figures from 2014 DOD land ownership include:

438,938 acres in Washington,

31,510 acres in Oregon, and

1,897,978 acres in California.

This totals 2.4 million acres, or about 3,700 square miles in these three states alone. This does not include the hundreds of thousands of square miles of airspace, or the millions of square miles of ocean they also utilize in or adjacent to these three states.

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Low-flying Navy jets over the Olympic Mountains disturb wildlife and quiet.

The purpose of DOD-owned lands is “…to guarantee DOD continued access to its land, air, and water resources for realistic military training and testing and to sustain the long-term ecological integrity of the resource base and the ecosystem it provides.” The use of the phrase “realistic military training” is odd, since the military defines it (RMT) as taking place “off federally owned property.”

So with all that available space, why does the Navy insist it also needs our national forests, national parks, state parks, and even private lands, too?

A 1988 agreement states that the DOD must prove that military-owned lands are unavailable or unsuitable before they can be allowed to take over a national forest. Nowhere in any public documents relating to our region have they ever done that. And they are not managing the lands they already own, either.

Back in 2005, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that was critical of the military’s management and utilization of its training ranges. Some ranges were overscheduled, and others were not utilized at all. Of 8 management actions for improving training range conditions analyzed by the GAO, the Navy was the only branch of the armed services to not complete a single one. Nearly ten years later, GAO’s most recent report (2014) concludes that the Secretary of Defense “…does not have a strategic plan, with goals and metrics, to manage DOD’s real property efficiently and facilitate identifying opportunities for consolidating unutilized or underutilized facilities.” Really? No plan? For 14 million acres?

Sometime this summer, the Forest Service will likely announce that it is adopting wholesale the Navy’s flawed 2014 Environmental Assessment on using its mobile emitters in Olympic National Forest. The Forest Service will then open a 45-day “objection period.” As if the public hasn’t already made their objections known—4,000 written public comments and thousands more expressions of public outrage back in autumn 2014 earned a 2-year stay from the Forest Service, but we will all have to again object en masse. Why? Because if the Forest Service and Navy think they can ignore the public, they can’t ignore the courts, and your comments will count heavily for the weight of public opinion when they are taken to court. You will be notified when the objection period opens.

It’s also worth noting that the Pentagon, whose spending continues to balloon despite claims to the contrary, is the only department of the government to have never passed an audit, despite a 1994 federal law saying it must. In fact, the Pentagon has never accounted for $8.5 trillion dollars doled out by taxpayers since 1996.

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Think about it. If not even the Government Accountability Office can make the military fiscally accountable or manage its own ranges so that they don’t have to take over our precious public lands, then maybe there’s only one real force that can stop them: Citizens. Armed with facts, votes, raised voices, political savvy and the determination to stop this runaway war train that spends two dollars on defense contractors for every dollar it spends on troops, and either cannot or will not manage the resources given to it by taxpayers. The DOD has millions of acres for combat training. Let’s not allow our public parks, wildernesses and neighborhoods to be used that way, too.

ONP hiker

The notion that people who exercise critical thinking about their government are unpatriotic radicals who hate their country is naive and idiotic. These people are more likely the ones who love their country more than most, are thus more disturbed than the rest when they see it debauched, and are more willing to step up and act against their despair.

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Updates – underwater pile-driving, ocean noise, comments

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A massive amount of pile driving is about to take place in Port Angeles harbor as the Navy gives us a tenfold construction increase. Pile driving noise carries 18 miles underwater. Wildlife, fisheries and the tourism economy will be adversely affected.

June 28, 2016 –  A lot is happening.

1. The US Forest Service has again delayed their decision on use of Navy mobile electronic warfare emitters in Olympic National Forest. Kim Crider, USFS Environmental Planner/Coordinator, said, “Our schedule has been delayed and the draft Decision Notice is not likely to be released until mid to late July at the soonest. You will be notified by email when the draft document is released for the 45-day Objection Period.”

2. 18 months of massive Navy pile-driving in Port Angeles harbor: The US Navy has quietly added 144 new pilings to its request for construction of facilities in Port Angeles harbor. These were not covered in the  January 2015 Environmental Assessment many of us commented on. It represents a tenfold increase in pile-driving, which can be heard for 18 miles underwater and is certain to drive marine mammals from the area. An application was filed late this month with the State and the US Army Corps of Engineers, and a comment period on that application is now open. Email your comments to brian.d.hooper@usace.army.mil and ecyrefedpermits@ecy.wa.gov. Tell them that when taken together, these projects rise to the impact level of a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and thus the certification or concurrence  from the two agencies should not be given until the Navy has complied with its legal obligations to the public. Separation of functionally and geographically connected projects for the purpose of avoiding a full public examination of the cumulative impacts is illegal, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) case law has proven this again and again. Comment period closes July 23. To see a spreadsheet of upcoming Navy construction activity that was provided to a veterans organization by a Navy employee, click here. The 144 extra pilings are item #14.

3. NOAA’s Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap comment period closes July 1. If you aren’t familiar with it, this news article from the Washington Post will help. You still have time to comment, and you can email them to Comment.ONS@noaa.gov. Be sure to put “ONS Roadmap Comments” in the subject line. Here are three comment letters from which you can borrow language:

West Coast Action Alliance joint comment letter with 14 organizations and individuals;

Olympic Park Associates comment letter; and

A joint comment letter from a group that formed after the showing of the movie “Sonic Sea.”

4. Resolutions are being passed from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest. The City of Cordova, Alaska, passed a resolution asking the Navy to locate its war games further offshore, to do them in the fall after peak animal migration and feeding times are over, and to refrain from using live ordnance or sonar in any Marine Protected Area, including NOAA Fisheries Marine Protected Areas, State Marine Protected Areas and Habitat Areas of Particular Concern. These are reasonable requests, but the Navy continues to ignore Alaskans as it does Washingtonians. In fact, the Navy has actually scheduled its next Alaskan war games during prime peak time for the Copper River salmon run. That’s akin to a stick in the eye. This 4-minute video shows what’s at stake.

Another resolution objecting to Navy noise was recently passed in Skagit County, Washington. Add this to recent resolutions passed in San Juan, Clallam and Jefferson County  — in fact, a whole slew of them from California to Alaska — and it’s becoming clear that public antipathy for the unwarranted and unnecessary expansion of war games into public lands, waters and the skies over our once-quiet communities is rising. Maybe one or two or five resolutions get ignored by the Navy, but there comes a point where they can no longer be ignored. Resolutions also serve as a tool to alert and educate people to what is happening. If you think a resolution ought to be passed by your local governing body, read the resolutions that have been passed so far, and help get more passed. A local citizens group is working on this for the Olympic Peninsula; if you want to help, contact us and we will put you in touch with them.

Orcas breaching

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Analysis of Navy EIS – Northwest Training and Testing

Freelan_SalishSea_125 From WWU

June 16, 2016 – The West Coast Action Alliance is publishing its Analysis and Notes on the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing EIS along with other documents:

The Navy’s Incidental Take of Marine Mammals and Endangered Species in Pacific Northwest Waters: An Analysis

and a chart adding up the numbers in four corners of the North Pacific Ocean: Takes by Species of Marine Mammal

To read the Navy’s EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) in sections, click here.

Can anything be done about noise and marine mammals? Yes. Read about NOAA’s “Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap” summarized in this New York Times article and show your concern by sending comments to: Comment.ONS@noaa.gov Your subject line should say “ONS Roadmap Comments” and email your comments until July 1, 2016. Include any citations to scientific literature you know of, as this is a search for information, too.

2 orca breach

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A plan to give whales some peace and quiet

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Unfortunately, this is not the “peace and quiet” we were hoping for; the Navy has evidently claimed another whale. Photo credit: Cascadia Research

June 6, 2016 – Another dead whale has been found in Puget Sound. This one was a young humpback that died after becoming trapped under the Navy’s docks at Bremerton (see photo below.) According to a report from Cascadia Research, “There was bruising at multiple locations consistent with it struggling after become trapped but these did not seem extensive enough to kill the animal. The exam could not rule out drowning related to becoming trapped under the dock. While not all tissues could be accessed and collected, additional tests will be conducted on some of the tissues that could be collected and these could provide additional insight into the cause of death.” This is the second whale death in little more than a month.

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Young humpback whale trapped under Navy’s docks at Bremerton. She died there. How could this happen? Photo credit: Cascadia Research

Starvation is not a likely factor in this whale’s death, because Cascadia’s report said, “There were food remains in the intestines and colon indicating the whale had been feeding recently on fish as well as possibly krill and these suggest the cause of death was more sudden and acute.”

This post explains the enormous increases in Navy activities in our waters.

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The Navy is disavowing culpability in this whale’s death; in fact, a Kitsap Sun news story reported that the “40-foot beast floated late Wednesday morning beneath a Puget Sound Naval Shipyard dock. A Navy boat towed it out of the way, into the bay.” It did not report that the whale had become trapped under the docks while still alive. Why? Did the Navy not notice a live 40-foot whale under its docks? Did they omit this or the fact that the whale was known to have been alive under there, when talking to news reporters? Does the Navy plan to retrofit its docks so this won’t happen again?

While shipping noise in general is a major factor in the silencing of whales’ ability to find food and each other, it is also a published fact that Navy underwater drones used in inland waters will increase from 140 to 161, that unmanned surface vehicles (which the Navy admits has trouble seeing sailboats) in inland waters are increasing from 2 to 25, that torpedoes used in inland waters will see huge increases, and worst of all, that acoustic testing and “life cycle” activity for sonar will increase at the Navy’s docks to 284 events per year.

Did the Navy run one of these acoustic tests while the whale was nearby?

Consider the fact that because of these increases the Navy is being allowed to “take” nearly 12 million whales, dolphins, porpoises and other marine mammals in the North Pacific, and that the takes breakdown for our waters covered by their Northwest Training and Testing EIS is as follows:

Coastal waters of California, Oregon and Washington:                575,258

Washington inland waters (Puget Sound, Hood Canal):              343,310

Southeast Alaska:                                                                              10,950

Eastern North Pacific (offshore)                                                     21,996

Consider also that because some of the Navy’s increases in activity are more than a thousand percent, it should be obvious that their contributions to the increasing levels of noise in the ocean are significant. Ocean noise has been doubling every decade. That’s from the Navy’s own figures.

The upshot? Maybe we should learn to expect more dead whales.

Or maybe there’s a better way. Natural Resource Defense Council Director of Marine Mammal protection Michael Jasny put it best. He said, “Unlike other ocean pollutants, this problem can be solved. Once you stop making noise, it goes away.”

An Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap summarized in this New York Times article proposes to summarize the current status of noise in the oceans and the science that documents it; it will help NOAA to recommend cross-agency actions that will reduce this noise, and NOAA is asking for public comments. Please send your comments to Comment.ONS@noaa.gov, and make sure you put “ONS Roadmap Comments” in the subject line and any supporting data or literature citations with your comments, as appropriate. Even if you are not a scientist and don’t have data or scientific literature to reference, your comments are important because NOAA needs to know how much public concern there is.

The health of whales is an indicator of the health of our oceans. The health of our oceans is an indicator of the health of our planet. Even the most jaded person cannot ignore the fact that our oceans are worth $24 trillion dollars, and that if the ocean was a country it’d be the seventh largest economy on the planet.

Finance aside, the way we treat these intelligent cetaceans will be a measure of our collective humanity.

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Sperm whale. Photo credit: Sonic Sea

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How the Navy gets its way, part 5: Forcible Evacuation

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Tinian Island after the military took it over for war games.

May 30, 2016 – While the country celebrates Memorial Day and thanks veterans and serving military for their service to our nation, American citizens are about to be forcibly evacuated from an island they’ve inhabited for 3,000 years.

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Pagan Island (pronounced pa-GAHN) as it looks now, before the Navy claims it for bombing practice.

The people of the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific  decided in the 1970s to not seek independence, but instead to forge closer ties with the United States. They established a commonwealth in political union with the United States in 1975. Like other U.S. territories, the islands do not have representation in the U.S. Senate, but, since 2009, are represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by a delegate who may vote in committee, but not on the House floor.

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The Northern Marianas are a US Commonwealth.

In 2013 the US Navy and Marine Corps announced their intention to turn all of Pagan Island (pronounced “pa-GAHN”) in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands into a live-fire bombing range and training area. The military requested “unfettered and uninterrupted access” to the island, which means the people are to be forcibly removed. Pagan is called “the jewel of the Pacific” because it’s pristine and biologically rich but also fragile. It has been the ancestral and spiritual home of the Chamorro and Carolinian peoples for more than 3,000 years, with recorded history dating back to the 1300s, and is being proposed as an ecotourism resort.

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Pagan Island. The Navy has refused to communicate with indigenous peoples in their own languages, thus denying them the right to know what the plans are.

Because of a 1981 volcanic eruption that caused temporary relocation of many but not all residents, families who had to leave the island have been wanting to return ever since. Some residents never left and still live there. “It is one of the most habitable islands in the Mariana chain,” said Dr. Michael Hadfield, a biologist at the University of Hawaii who has studied the island’s unique flora and fauna. Unfortunately, the government has for decades denied resettlement to most of the island’s former residents who have applied, and now the Navy and Marines claim the island is “uninhabited,” which is not true. Because of the volcano they say it’s “too hazardous” for resettlement. And they intend to forcibly evacuate the island’s remaining residents so bombing can commence in 2017.

According to the Los Angeles Times, massive, “guns-blazing war games on Pagan at least 16 weeks a year” would allow aerial, naval, field artillery, grenade, mortar, laser, and rocket bombardment. The Navy says it’ll be a good steward of the island, but with more than 700,000 live rounds to be fired yearly, that’s hard to imagine. And with fewer than 600 of the island’s 11,680 acres officially surveyed for cultural resources, how would the military know where not to bomb? More than 180 historic sites are known on the island, 110 of which are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Contractors working for the Navy identified six of those sites, after which the Navy discontinued the survey. That is the military equivalent of shoot, shovel and shut up.

A disturbing chain of events and manipulation has led to this crisis: READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE

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Opposition to forcible evacuation and seizing their ancestral home is universal in the western Pacific.

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The unbearable noise

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May 16, 2016 – Noise in the sea is killing and injuring wildlife.

“The Navy merely received a slap on the wrist and the public was never aware of the true nature of the Take or the violations.” -anonymous Navy source to Truthout reporter Dahr Jamail

The numbers are shocking. The online news organization Truthout published their top story this morning, on the excessively high numbers of marine mammals the US Navy is allowed to “take” as a result of exploding mines and bombs and using sonar in sensitive habitats during testing and training exercises. Truthout senior investigative reporter Dahr Jamail researched and wrote it after noticing this post from the West Coast Action Alliance.

Coincidentally, the New York Times wrote last week that Navy sonar “cannot be ruled out as cause of death” for dolphins in Southern California.

Which brings us to this: 23 organizations are sponsoring a showing of the movie “Sonic Sea” on Monday, May 23 from 7-9 PM at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (QUUF) in Port Townsend, Washington, 2333 San Juan Avenue. The eye-opening film reveals how noise from Navy sonar, drilling operations and everyday vessel traffic adversely impacts whales and other sea life. (Watch trailer here.) A donation of $10 is suggested at the door.

Two world renowned experts and cast members will be at the screening – Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research and Michael Jasny of the National Resources Defense Council. They will speak and, after the film, lead a Q&A session. (Press release here.) If you are not in the area, check this site for more screenings, or to host one in your area. To learn more, download the Ocean Noise Report. See you there.

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Low oxygen delivery endangers pilots, civilians

May 14, 2016 – “Nothing scares a Hornet/Growler pilot more that losing oxygen – and it happens all the time.” This article in the Navy Times details the problem, which pilots have identified as their top concern. But read the comments, some are from pilots who add perspective, including the fact that the problem is decades old and the new, less reliable oxygen delivery system replaced the old reliable one because it made maintenance cheaper.

Here’s the issue as we see it: While the West Coast Action Alliance maintains our vigorous objections to the Navy’s encroachment on public lands, waters and airspaces over civilian communities, we also vigorously object to the fact that when the Pentagon’s focus becomes “How much money can we spend on defense contractors making new weapons” instead of “How can we take care of the people who serve and who’ve served,” then they put lives in danger unnecessarily, both in the air and on the ground. This is a fixable problem and the Navy is not fixing it. Do they not have the money? Not when you look at this list that shows at least 2/3 of the Pentagon’s budget goes to defense contractors. Of the top 37 US contractors, all but 4 are defense, and development of new weaponry takes priority. Humanity already knows ways to kill itself a thousand times over, but preventable jet crashes should not be one of them.

If a Navy jet ever crashes and hypoxia is found to be the cause, it will likely be a matter of criminal negligence.

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Leaked Navy emails show intent to violate law

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Marbled murrelet-gate?

May 9, 2016 – A series of internal emails leaked by an anonymous Navy source to Truthout investigative reporter Dahr Jamail reveal a deliberate willingness by the US Navy to flout federal law; the story was published today.

The gist? Navy personnel have been “working to manipulate the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists into bending the law, then proceeded to break the law, whilst the consultations between the two entities are ongoing.”

A quick reading of the emails also reveals an unprecedented level of intimidation by Pentagon-level officials, of FWS field biologists.

According to the article, Navy sonar and explosive activities are a double whammy for marbled murrelets, “… secretive diving seabirds that nest in old-growth forests, which makes them vulnerable to both jet noise and sonar.” The Navy’s John Mosher frankly admits in one email, “We are conducting these activities without coverage.” Meaning, a valid permit to “take” (harm) threatened and endangered species does not exist, which is illegal.
The emails show the Navy trying to force the FWS to shrink its definition of harm by eliminating both temporary hearing loss caused by explosives, and behavior changes of all kinds, from the standards for measuring harm. This too would be illegal if the FWS complied with that request. It is possibly the reason for concern that has caused an unprecedented delay in completing the Biological Opinion (and the take permit that accompanies it) that the Navy wanted last September. According to the FWS, neither is complete and the consultation is still open. Which raises big questions about the legality of the Navy’s ongoing activities.

West Coast Action Alliance spokesperson Karen Sullivan, who was asked to analyze the emails, said, “If an evaluation of harm to a species rules out standard definitions of harm, encourages use of data more than 40 years old and prohibits the presence of adequately trained observers, then it neither gives the benefit of the doubt to the species nor uses the best available information — and thus does not contribute to legally defensible solutions.”
What will it take to make the Navy follow the law? Must the citizens who already pay for the Pentagon’s $600 billion dollar budget also have to sue them to keep them honest?

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