2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 9 May 2003 20:58:31 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Ecological Society letter on DOD Exemptions
The following letter was written by Dr. Ann M. Bartuska, President of
the Ecological Society of America.

This letter can be downloaded as a PDF document at:

May 2003

Dear Member of Congress,

Military readiness is a key element of the Department of Defense's (DOD)
mandate and threats to military readiness must be taken seriously.
However, as scientists, we are concerned that proposed DOD exemptions
from environmental statutes would unnecessarily detract from increasing
ecological knowledge of endangered species and landscapes as well as
removing their important statutory protections.  We are unconvinced that
compliance with these regulations impacts readiness to an extent that
would justify exemptions.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA), the nation's premier ecological
science society of 8,000 members, asks Congress to reject the proposed
DOD exemptions.  An exemption from these laws would preclude adaptive
management and limit the use of science in establishing safe practices.
For example, the DOD proposes to change the definition of harassment of
a marine mammal from 'potential to disturb' to 'likely to disturb.' This
language change shifts the burden of proof from the military to show
that its activities are not harmful to the scientific community to prove
that they are harmful.  Given that many of the activities and
technologies of the military are not shared with the public and that
there are significant barriers to obtaining the necessary scientific
data the scientific community will not be able to adequately address
this question.  For example, determining the impact of Navy sonar on
whales is fraught with data gaps and uncertainty.  Without a
precautionary approach, should the sonar prove to negatively impact
whales, it is likely that science would not be able to provide clear
evidence of that until whale populations were significantly impacted.

Exemptions to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation , and Liability Act
(CERCLA) would remove scientific oversight and accountability for
emissions of toxic chemicals on military lands.  However, toxic
substances can travel far beyond release sites and persist well after
activities have ceased.  Scientific access is essential to determine the
extent and toxicity of releases and recourse for mitigating or ending
activities that cause unacceptable risks to humans, wildlife, or
ecosystems.  The science regarding safe exposure levels of many
substances is still evolving and the regulation of these substances on
military land must evolve with scientific input.

Proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act would eliminate the DOD's
accountability to outside entities, a move that has the potential to
decrease the ecological research performed on DOD lands and DOD's
obligation to consider ecological science when designing or revising
management practices.  Much of the remaining habitat for endangered
species is found on DOD lands.  We applaud innovative DOD efforts to
respond to this responsibly, such as its work wit the North Carolina
Nature Conservancy to purchase lands adjacent to Fort Bragg for the
preservation of the endangered red cockaded woodpecker.  The innovation
of such partnerships demonstrate that national security and
environmental protection need not be mutually exclusive.

Ultimately, the training restrictions facing the DOD and the plight of
endangered species stem from a single cause  urban sprawl.  The
conversion of open spaces around DOD facilities to housing developments
(known as 'encroachment') causes both increased restrictions on DOD
activities and the destruction of essential habitat.  As a result of
encroachment, the last remaining large areas of habitat suitable for
endangered species are frequently found on non-urbanized military bases,
something likely to become even more pronounced in the future.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to either sacrificing military
readiness or sacrificing endangered species.  The Ecological Society of
America urges that rather than focusing on environmental statues, DOD
use its influence to combat encroachment, the root cause of critical
habitat designation on bases and other restrictions by advocating for
better community planning and open space requirements.  The ecological
science community could work as an ally with DOD to protect ecosystems
outside of military bases to the mutual benefit of the environment and
the military.

In summary, good management practices change and improve with increases
in scientific information.  The Ecological Society of America fears that
blanket exemptions not only will decrease data gathered by both the DOD
and independent scientists on DOD land, but also will permanently set in
place existing practices, which further research may show to be
inadequate.  The DOD has been a good steward of its lands.  We applaud
the agency for its efforts and success.  However, these exemption
proposals represent a step in the wrong direction.  There are
cooperative alternatives that would lead to both a better military and a
more protected environment.  We ask Congress to reject this proposal and
to work with the DOD to find an alternate course of action.


Dr. Ann M. Bartuska, President

The Ecological Society is the country's primary professional
organization of ecologists, representing over 8,000 scientists in the
United States and around the world.  Since its founding in 1915, ESA has
diligently pursued the promotion of the responsible application of
ecological principles to the solution of environmental problems through
ESA reports, journals, research, and expert testimony to Congress.  For
more information about the Society and its activities, visit the ESA
website at http://www.esa.org

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