The US Navy really “goes for it” in training area plans

Given their candor in the recent past it is not too surprising that the US Navy their Atlantic Fleet Testing and Training (AFTT) plan will “inadvertently kill hundreds of whales and dolphins and injure thousands over the next five years.” There is no mention of the thousands of sharks, fish, and other wildlife also likely to be killed or maimed, because these other animals are not subject to the regulatory constraints of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), or the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

While the Navy expresses sympathy for marine life in their responses to the hundreds of public comments advising against the proposed actions in the AFTT Environmental Impact Statement, the Navy’s bottom line hinges on the need for “sailors to test and train in real life conditions.” This need supersedes the lives of 186 whales and dolphins off the East Coast and 155 off Hawaii and Southern California, and the 11,267 serious injuries and 1.89 million minor injuries imposed on Atlantic marine mammals alone.

This argument might almost hold water if America’s foreseeable adversaries were also maritime fighting forces, or if operations were limited to a contained sacrifice area, but since the US Navy left the Vieques, Puerto Rico live fire training range in 2003 they have expanded their live fire training ranges to include the mid and southern US Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, the Southern California coast, Hawaii, the corridor between Hawaii and California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Gulf of Alaska – in addition to other areas in the Pacific.

I am not a military strategist, but I understand that any social economy (read “civilization”) requires a military to defend its interests, and that the scale of that military force will necessarily reflect the ambitions of the social economy. In the US we have a military under civilian supervision and control to make sure that the military’s ambitions do not eclipse our society’s priorities. We have provisions like the National Environmental Policy Act that permits our nation’s citizens to comment and advise on the proposed actions of the military.

Photo caption: Orca killed by submerged explosives in Washington State. Photo Cascadia Research

In the case of the AFTT (and the concurrent Hawaii-Southern California Testing and Training – HSTT range) the Navy has been warned by the public that their impacts on marine life are unacceptable. For the Navy to respond to these warnings that the deaths and maiming of marine life is “insignificant” turns their qualification of “inadvertent deaths” into “intentional killing.”

Unfortunately the AFTT and HSTT environmental impact statements are “final.” They are the environmental action plans. It appears that the National Marine Fisheries Service (the regulating agency) has acquiesced on these actions. Hopefully some organization picks these up for legal review.