The threat of a lawsuit did not move the Department of the Navy to comply with Endangered Species Act, according to a Joint Region Marianas yesterday.
Instead, the Navy was already in steps to comply with environmental law for threats posed to endangered species by the Marianas Islands and Training and Testing project, according to the Navy.
The Navy’s statement yesterday was responding to an earlier press release from the environmental group, Earthjustice, which announced last week that the U.S. Navy had agreed to consult the Wildlife Service over threats to endangered and threatened species posed by training and testing activities in the Mariana Islands,
Earthjustice’s claim that “had citizens not taken action to hold the Navy accountable, it’s doubtful the Navy would have ever scrutinized the threats its actions pose to these species,” is inaccurate,” JRM said.
“The Navy is fully aware of its ongoing obligations under the Endangered Species Act and has had an ongoing dialogue with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the new species since they were proposed for listing in October 2014. “
JRM said that immediately after the proposed listing, the Navy contracted with experts to conduct surveys to locate the new species so that the Navy could assess the potential effects of its proposed activities on them. And that based on these survey results and the Navy’s subsequent analysis following the USFWS final listing decision in October 2015, the Navy determined to consult with USFWS.
“The letter [notice to sue] by Earthjustice did not prompt something not already in process by the Navy,” JRM said.
In February, a coalition of groups represented by Earthjustice signaled their intent to sue the Navy over an alleged failure to consult with the Service after 23 species where declared endangered in the Marianas in October. The Navy had expanded their Marianas archipelago training last August.
Earthjustice, in their earlier statement, said the Navy’s failure consult with the Service violated Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, which requires federal agencies to ensure their actions will not jeopardize species’ continued existence.
The February letter gave the Navy and Fish & Wildlife Service 60 days to resolve that violation and on March 31, the Navy sent a letter to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to initiate consultation on the 18 of the 23 newly listed species that the Navy determined could be affected by the expanded training, Earthjustice said.
“This legally mandated consultation is an important step to ensure that the Navy’s actions do not push any of these newly listed species closer to extinction,” said Earthjustice staff attorney David Henkin in the statement. “Had citizens not taken action to hold the Navy accountable, it’s doubtful the Navy would have ever scrutinized the threats its actions pose to these species.”