Brunswick, ME -Brunswick Naval Air Station is conducting bombing exercises within North Atlantic right whale habitat in the Gulf of Maine, according to information obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Live-fire training in the right whale habitat poses dangers for one of the most critically endangered whale populations on earth at a time when the Pentagon is proposing legislation to exempt itself from compliance with environmental laws.
Open-ocean bombing is a common form of training for the air station, but the timing and location of the exercises puts it squarely in the right whale migration path. With a population of approximately 300 animals, the loss of even one individual lessens the viability of the remaining population.
This week, the U.S. Senate is considering the 2003 Defense Authorization Act. The House version of the bill contains language proposed by the Defense Department granting it complete immunity from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and broad leeway to ignore the Endangered Species Act. In addition to asking the Senate to include the House language, Pentagon spokespersons have vowed to seek major relaxation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act - the principal law shielding whales from adverse impacts.
"In seeking these exemptions, the Navy is asking the American public to trust them to serve as conscientious stewards of our natural resources," said New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, "This action suggests the Navy is unclear on the concept of stewardship."
Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) has been repeatedly warned about the devastating potential of bombing drills during right whale migration. Last August, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) commissioned a report which urged the station to adopt "specific operating procedures" to avoid harming right whales, including aerial whale surveys, consultation with the Coast Guard, and the exploration of "alternative bombing ranges." Unlike BNAS, bases in the Southeast have adopted such basic measures, according to the NMFS report.
Concluded Bennett, "Bombardment is not an activity conducive to the survival of this critically endangered population."