Suit Challenges Navy Bombing of Migratory Birds
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, January 8, 2001 (ENS) - The Center for Biological Diversity, represented by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, has filed suit to stop the U.S. Navy from continuing to use the Pacific island of Farallon de Medinilla for live fire training. The suit charges the military with violating the international Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
"The continued bombing and destruction of rare and migratory birds on Farallon de Medinilla is an ecological travesty and is an embarrassment to our nation," said Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. "We urge the court to uphold the law and halt the bombing."
Located 45 nautical miles north of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the 200 acre island is long and narrow with dramatic ocean cliffs. Uninhabited by humans, Farallon de Medinilla hosts breeding colonies of great frigatebirds; masked, red-footed, and brown boobys; red- and white-tailed tropicbirds; white and sooty terns; brown and black noddys; and other species of migratory seabirds.
The nonmigratory Micronesian megapode and the Mariana fruit bat, both listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, also inhabit the island.
Since 1976, the Navy, together with other branches of the U.S. military, has used Farallon de Medinilla and a three mile buffer around the island for target practice throughout the year. Exercises include air to surface gunnery with missiles and rockets; bombing runs with 500, 750 and 2000 pound bombs, precision guided munitions and mines.
Other exercises include target practice with deck mounted guns, and firing grenades, machine guns and shoulder launched missiles at the island from inflatable vessels.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), one of the oldest conservation statutes in existence, since 1918 has prohibited harm to migratory birds without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The USFWS refused to issue such a permit to the Navy in 1996.
However, the Navy has continued to bomb Farallon de Medinilla, claiming that the MBTA does not apply to federal agencies. The Center for Biological Diversity is asking the court to declare that the statute does indeed apply, and to issue an injunction halting all live fire exercises at Farallon de Medinilla unless and until the Navy complies fully with the MBTA.
The case, brought by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) against the Agriculture Department, could serve as a precedent indicating that federal agencies are subject to the permitting requirements of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
"This is a major victory for the geese as well as other species of protected birds," said Nancy Perry, HSUS director of government affairs, when the court's decision was announced in July 2000. "The court's decision ensures that migratory birds throughout the country have some measure of protection, that federal agencies will not be able to slaughter birds in violation of international and domestic laws."
"Eighty years ago, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. called the preservation of migratory birds a 'national interest of very nearly the first magnitude'," Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said. "Congress enacted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect that national interest, and we expect all federal agencies, including the Navy, to comply with it."