‘Military plan for Pagan will endanger native species’

A whole range of the terrestrial snail species, the Partula gibba, lies in the Marianas between Guam and Pagan, and is among the many biological resources native to Pagan that are threatened by the proposed military plan for the region, according to Dr. Michael Hadfield, who was part of a U.S. Fish & Wildlife survey on Pagan in 2010.

“The biological resource was rich [on Pagan]. It is important to the people of the Marianas just for its own value so that their children, and children’s children down the line can see what nature looks like unaltered. The fact then that the military practices will destroy that is unquestionable,” he said.

Hadfield, who is known as an authority in his field, spoke with Saipan Tribune of his personal discovery of Pagan and the possible effects of the proposed military buildup there.

“[In 2010], you could imagine how ignorant I was at that point. I simply started learning as much about the history of Pagan island, the geology of Pagan island, the human history of Pagan island, the biology,” he said.

His research team was the first of the teams on Pagan in May 2010 who were also doing research on birds, insect, and vegetation.

“When I landed the camps weren’t there, there were just mounds with blue tarp over them and a lot of barrels of aviation gas, so I helped set up the camp,” he said.

During his 13 nights on Pagan, Hadfield relied on decades-old notes left by Dr. Yoshio Kondo, who did snail research on Pagan after the war in 1949, as well as vegetation maps he put together from aerial photos provide by U.S. Fish and Wildlife for select areas to travel to.

He was able to get close to areas where Kondo found the snails but noted how clearly what Kondo left in his notes had changed due to wild cattle on Pagan.

“The understory in those areas are just gone, there is no bushes, there is very little grass, and that’s where the snails would have been. We looked in all the areas that Kundo had gone,” Hadfield.

His team looked up the north side of Pagan, the west side, through the middle, and through miles of coconuts trees for the tree snails, and was finally was able to get a helicopter to lift them into Pagan’s caldera, a volcanic crater in the southern part of the island, where Kundo had climbed before.

They found the snails there. According to Hadfield, along the volcano’s rim is a fair amount of native forests where the snails were found in four different spots and were “quite abundant.”

“That’s really the treasure of the treasure,” he said. “But quite abundant means hundreds, not thousands.”

More than 200 snails were found, according to his report to Fish and Wildlife.

The report also noted that forest that had been reported to have had Partula gibba are now without them.

Preliminary genetic analysis also indicated that the populations of Partula gibba on Pagan are significantly diverse from those in Guam. Also, the genetic distances between Partula gibba on Saipan, Sarigan, and Pagan are as great, or greater, than those typically observed between separate species in many animal taxa.

Research would be conducted to determine whether these snails should be considered variants, subspecies or even separate species.

“If they were people we’d call them races,” Hadfield quipped.

Because the snail population is small, unique, and genetically diverse, Hadfiled recommends that they deserve protection.

“The whole range of that species now is about a mile across,” he said of Pagan’s unique snails.

He said the reports to Fish and Wildlife showed that more than half of the insect species found were endemic to the Marianas islands, and that plants and bird show similar results.

“We were really blown away by the birds. I’ve been all over the world, and I’ve been in Asia, Africa, Europe, India, and Pagan is the only island I have been to where all the birds are native [to the region],” he said.

‘Destruction on the way’

Hadfield, who lives in Hawaii, said he has “fought the military for years,” especially over O’ahu’s Makua Valley where live-fire military training has been conducted.

The valley is packed with deep grass higher than his head and dries out in the late summer, according to Hadfield, and holds some endangered species.

“They keep firing and it catches fire and burns, so this burning grass of course takes the forest away, but in that valley there are some endangered tree snails, birds, and some endangered plants. We fought the military there for years because every year they would start more fires, more of the forests would disappear,” he said.

He cited the Bikini Atoll, Kaho’olawe, Enewetok, Vieques, and Diego Garcia as examples of islands devastated by military use.

Hadfield does not believe the military will confine its activities to the northern part of Pagan, as they claim, with a fence running the middle part of the island, away from the hard sought snails he found on the southern end.

“I have no confidence that it will remain just that,” he said, claiming that the wording of their intent allows for the taking of the entire island for live-fire training.

“What’s important here is that these snails are unique to the Marianas Islands, and if people say, ‘So what, what about snails, what about trees, so what about lizards?’ we start knocking off nature and then where do you stop? My own feeling, of course, is that it all has value, it just has value, its natural value,” he said.

More details on the proposed live-fire training in the Marianas can be found at cnmijointmilitarytrainingeis.com/documents. Hadfield’s Save Pagan initiative can be found savepaganisland.org.

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Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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