Military could have stake in proposed ESA listing

The U.S. military could have a stake in the proposed listing of 23 Marianas plant and animal species under the Endangered Species Act, for which public comments were reopened this month. They first closed in December last year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, out of deemed threats to these species, have proposed that two of these species be listed as threatened and the rest as endangered.

One plant species—the Heritiera longipetiolata—described by Fish and Wildlife as some of “rarest of rare,” occurs on lands leased to the military on Tinian.

In its October report, the Service wrote that the development of two-thirds of Tinian land leased to the U.S. Department of Defense would “negatively impact the habitat” of these plant species.

Live-fire training on the island would also negatively impact the species, they wrote. Pagan, another proposed site for live-fire training, was taken into account as well.

Citing a report by the NavFac Engineering Command in 2014, the Service said that “Alternative 1 and Alternative 2 claim the entire island [of Pagan] as a live-fire training area.”

“If the entire island of Pagan is used as a live-fire training range area, it would negatively impact” the Cycas micronesica, Slevin’s skink, humped tree snail, and habitat for Bulbophyllum guamense,” stated the Service.

These species would be negatively impacted by “direct destruction by live-fire weapons or possible wildfires caused by them and by trampling and destruction of military personnel,” according to the agency.

Further south, in Guam, 18 of the 23 species occur on preferred alternative sites for the military relocation of personnel there.

As of Dec. 1, 2014, the Service counted 12 comments submitted since their proposed action was listed on the Federal Register on Oct. 1 and public comments opened.

Three of these comments are available online. One notably came from the Department of Navy’s deputy assistant secretary Donald R. Schregardus.

“Most of the 23 species proposed for listing occur on military property,” he wrote. “As you are aware the DON has a number of actions proposed in the Marianas that are critically important national defense initiatives. We look forward to working with your office to finalize the Joint Region Marianas Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan so that management strategies can be implemented to protect these proposed species, to avoid military readiness impact and to facilitate required ESA consultations,” he wrote.

In its October report, under a section labeled “Historical and Ongoing Human Impacts,” the Service briefly described a history of colonial use from Spanish, to German, to Japanese times, that caused “degradation” and alteration of the islands of Rota, Saipan and Tinian, “leaving little native forest” for the present day.

Whether the military will continue this narrative remains to be seen.

Earlier, MARFORPAC executive director Craig Whelden indicated that the environment impact statement for live-fire training in the region had been pushed back to take into consideration further concerns.

Pagan, he also indicated, would use a training area limited to its northern volcano to protect flora and fauna in the south.

The draft environmental impact statement is reportedly due in April.

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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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