Choosing between tanks and The Nature Conservancy

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1997:

Lethal as bombs and guns are, noman’s-land
designated for military training is
often the last refuge for wildlife, because sporadic
warfare disrupts habitat less than either
peaceful development or recreational hunting
and fishing, which inherently disturb the food
web. But wildlife use of no-man’s-land often
brings another kind of conflict, in the courts,
when the shooting starts.


The U.S. Air Force, in settlement of
a lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife, earlier
this year rearranged practice bombing targets
in the Sonora desert to protect the endangered
Sonoran pronghorn and three rare plants.
The Air Force now expects a challenge to a
proposal to test-fire 12 cruise missiles a year
from either Cudjoe Key or Saddlebunch Key,
in South Florida. The missiles would be targets
for THAAD interceptor missiles to be
launched from Eglin Air Force Base in the
Florida Panhandle. Passing over the 176,000-
acre Great White Heron National Wildlife
Refuge, home of at least 19 endangered
species, each 12-ton cruise missile would
spew about 3,000 pounds of hydrochloric acid,
among other exhaust chemicals. The test
launches are being moved from the White
Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, after
four failed interceptions, because the White
Sands range is considered dangerously narrow.
Trying to avoid such a conflict, the
U.S. Army and Department of the Interior are
reportedly trying to trade surplus military land
in other areas for 285,000 acres of Mojave
desert owned by the Catellus Development
Corporation, with estimated value of $100
million. Catellus, formerly the real estate arm
of the Southern Pacific Railroad, is the major
private inholder within the Mojave National
Preserve. The land, about a third of Catellus’
southern California property, would facilitate
a proposed 331,000-acre expansion of the Fort
Irwin tank training base. Long tentatively slated
for high-density development, it would be
managed as wilderness––except for the tank
use, which might be challenged by the Sierra
Club as a potential threat to the Mojave desert
tortoise. The Army says it needs the extra
space in part to avoid tank damage to other
desert tortoise habitat.
Another player in the evolving political
struggle may be The Nature Conservancy,
also believed to be interested in obtaining the
Catellus inholdings. Under TNC management,
the National Park Service could be expected to
make a more vigorous effort to rid the land of
wild horses and burros, and it would be more
likely to remain open to hunting and grazing.
The U.S. Navy bombed Farallon de
Medinilla, off Guam, as scheduled this spring
and as exposed in March by ANIMAL PEOPLE,
despite the presence of endangered and
protected sea birds. Major conservation
groups are investigating legal action against
any further bombing, however, which
ornithologist J.D. Reichel in 1991 called
“probably the most serious problem” in the
region involving incidental take of sea birds.
Knowing the difficulty the U.S. military
has in finding weapons testing and training
sites, British Columbia premier Glen
Clark on May 23 brought Washington D.C.
and Ottawa back to stalled negotiations over
salmon rights by invoking the B.C. right to
cancel federal use of the Nanoose Bay torpedo
range with 90 days notice. Ottawa pays $1 a
year for the range, subletting use to the U.S.
Navy since 1965. Canadian foreign affairs
minister Lloyd Axworthy announced the
restart of the salmon talks within 24 hours,
but at the ANIMAL PEOPLE deadline Clark
hadn’t yet reauthorized the Nanoose Bay lease.

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