Washington, DC.. U.S. Air Force training activity in the Sonoran Desert is hastening the extinction of the endangered pronghorn antelope, according to a sworn statement filed today by the service's former chief biologist at Arizona's Luke Air Force Base. The biologist also cited numerous instances where the Air Force violated the Endangered Species Act and its own policies in conducting training exercises at the Barry M. Goldwater Range (BMGR) in southwestern Arizona.
Bruce Eilerts, a 17 year federal civilian biologist, served as the Natural & Cultural Resource Director at Luke Air Force Base until this past fall when the Air Force fired him for preparing a complaint to the Inspector General concerning environmental problems on BMGR. Eilerts is seeking full restoration under the Whistleblower Protection Act and is being represented in that effort by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). His sworn statement was filed today in support of a lawsuit brought by Defenders of Wildlife against the U.S. Department of Interior and the Air Force concerning their failure to protect the endangered pronghorn.
In his sworn affidavit, Eilerts cited an array of illegal Air Force actions in the critical habitat of the pronghorn that directly killed animals or contributed to their demise, including:
* numerous "accidental" bomb drops, including one near where a pronghorn carcass was later found;
* strafing (firing machine guns from low-flying aircraft); and
* low-altitude helicopter training.
Eilerts stated that much of this activity took place without required environmental reviews and often in violation of Air Force rules designed to protect the pronghorn, such as avoiding low-altitude flights during fawning season. Taken together with drought conditions and predation, Eilerts called the Air Force's training "a significant threat to the survival and recovery of the Sonoran pronghorn, either by killing them, or causing adverse behavioral changes, such as increased energy use or displacement from important habitat."
"According to its own specialists, the U.S. Air Force is derelict in its environmental duties," said PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer who is representing Eilerts. "Regrettably, these lawsuits are necessary because the Air Force's own accountability mechanisms do not work."