Animals are among losers of “War on Terror”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2009:
BARSTOW, JACKSONVILLE– Wars are lost by losing lives and
land. Thus whales, burros, pigs, and desert tortoises far from
any battlefield are among the losers of the War on Terror,
informally declared in 2001 by then-U.S. President George W. Bush.
The Barack Obama administration in March 2009 abandoned use
of the phrase “War on Terror” to describe what are now called
“overseas contingency operations,” and are no longer rhetorically
linked, in recognition that U.S. troops are fighting different foes
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But changing terminology has not changed the issues. Even
before “War on Terror” was used to drum up support for the U.S.
invasion of Iraq, it was used to quell opposition to military
training exercises that harm animals and habitat. Military projects
harmful to animals that began or expanded in the name of the “War on
Terror” are still underway, often bigger than ever.

Most controversially and most directly related to the war
effort, the U.S. Marine Corps in July 2009 confirmed to Mark Walker
of the North County Times in Escondido, California that “1,374 of
the 40,000 troops assigned to Camp Pendleton’s I Marine Expeditionary
Force have undergone or will undergo ‘live tissue training’ involving
the wounding of anesthetized pigs who are later destroyed,” Walker
“Representative Bob Filner, chair of the House Armed
Services Committee, signed a letter on July 9 asking the military to
stop using pigs in medical training,” added Walker. “The letter,
by Representative Henry Johnson of Georgia, was sent to Army
officials and says that use of medical simulators and placing troops
in hospital emergency rooms can readily replace the current practice,
employed at various sites around the country since 2006.”
“What our soldiers need is repeated practice on realistic
mannequins with the correct anatomy,” commented Humane Society of
the U.S. vice president for animal research Martin Stephens.
PETA in July 2008 campaigned against similar exercises
conducted by the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks,
Hawaii, and unsuccessfully sought a USDA investigation after at
least 13 pigs died during transport to Hawaii for use in live tissue
training. In mid-July 2009 PETA researcher Shalin Gala complained to
San Diego County planning director Eric Gibson that the exercises
violate the agricultural zoning of the 17-acre avocado grove where
they take place.
“The department determined that county regulations do not
prohibit this type of medical training,” Gibson responded.
Between the 2008 and 2009 PETA efforts, USA Today reporter
Tom Vanden Brook disclosed in April 2009 that, “Military researchers
have dressed live pigs in body armor and strapped them into Humvee
simulators that were then blown up with explosives to study the link
between roadside bomb blasts and brain injury. For an 11-month
period that ended in December, researchers subjected pigs and rats
to about 200 blasts.”
Blowing up pigs produced at least seven specific useful
findings, according to Army Colonel Mike Jaffee, director of the
Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, but New York Times
reporter Denise Grady on May 25, 2009 attributed similar findings to
brain scans and autopsies performed on the remains of more than 3,000
U.S. military personnel who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Grady also described life-saving findings resulting from the scans
and autopsies which could not have resulted from examining the
remains of non-human experimental subjects.

Burros & tortoises

Wild Burro Rescue as the July/ August 2009 edition of ANIMAL
PEOPLE went to press hoped to rally last-minute opposition to a
Bureau of Land Management plan to remove 40 burros from Fort Irwin,
adjacent to Death Valley National Park. The BLM also plans to trap
40 to 60 burros at Owl Hole Springs, near the park.
“The burros will be kept at the BLM holding facility in
Ridgecrest, where they will be put up for adoption,” said Barstow
Desert Dispatch staff writer Eunice Lee.
Fort Irwin natural resources program manager Clarence Everly
told Lee that burros “roam through live fire training areas on the
installation,” interrupting operations.
Wild Burro Rescue founder Diana Chontos is skeptical of any
pretense that the roundup is for the benefit of burros. National
Park Service policy is to purge non-native species. The Park Service
has sought to keep burros out of the parts of Death Valley that it
controls since 1994. Removing burros from Fort Irwin and Owl Hole
Springs serves that end, Chontos told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Wild burros on BLM land are protected from killing by the
1971 Wild & Free Ranging Horse and Burro Protection Act, but have no
protection anywhere else.
Desert tortoises are an endangered species, protected
anywhere they occur. The Army has been vigorously evicting desert
tortoises from the same parts of Fort Irwin as burros, to expand
tank training. In early 2008 the Army moved 556 of the endangered
tortoises to other public land. More than 90 tortoises died soon
after being moved. Most were reportedly killed by coyotes.
“Draft environmental documents released by the BLM said that
drought, not relocation, was to blame,” wrote Daniel Danelski of
the Riverside Press-Enterprise. “Scarce water meant coyotes had
fewer rabbits and other normal prey. The coyotes apparently turned
to tortoises as a food of last resort.”
The Army now plans to move about 90 desert tortoises out of
Fort Irwin in September and October 2009, and then move as many as
1,100 in 2010.

Marine animals

The U.S. Navy on August 3, 2009 announced that it will
proceed as planned to build a 500-square-mile grid of cable-linked
transmitters and receivers on the sea floor off northern Florida and
southern South Carolina, to be used in anti-submarine warfare
training. The construction is expected to take five years.
“The northern Florida waters are considered the heart of the
right whale’s winter breeding ground and are travelled by other
species, such as loggerhead sea turtles,” summarized Bo Peterson of
the Charleston Post & Courier. “Conservationists worry that sonar
and other man-made noises could be deafening and could frighten
whales into fatal beach strandings and rapid surfacing.”
The project was opposed in 2007 by South Carolina Natural
Resources environmental programs director Robert Duncan. “Intense
sound can damage fish’s ears, reduce the viability of eggs, harm
larvae, and retard growth. Intense sound also can cause changes in
fish behavior, and disrupt fish navigation, communication, foraging
and schooling,” wrote Duncan.
Before the “War on Terror” started, the U.S. Navy
acknowledged that use of sonar might have had a part in causing
beaked whale strandings during training exercises held in 2000 in the
“The Navy has since agreed to adopt some measures to protect
whales, such as having ships turn off their sonar when sailors spot
marine mammals nearby,” recounted Audrey McAvoy of Associated Press.
“But it has strongly resisted more stringent restrictions, saying
there is not enough scientific evidence to require them. The Navy is
pushing for more research, budgeting $26 million per year over the
next five years to understand how marine mammals hear and how sound
affects them.”
Some of the Navy money funded work by Cascadia Research
Collective marine biologist Robin Baird. Baird, founder of the
Marmam online information network for marine biologists, studied
Cuvier’s and Blainville beaked whales off Hawaii and northern
bottlenose whales off Nova Scotia.
His findings, published in June 2009 in the journal
Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, “provide more evidence that
beaked whales found dead in association with naval sonar activities
are likely to be getting decompression sickness,” Baird told McAvoy.
At least 41 such incidents occurred between 1960 and 2006,
according to an inventory published by the Journal of Cetacean
Research & Management.
But even though the Navy paid for Baird’s research, the Navy
paid little evident attention to Baird’s conclusions.
Calling the Navy’ decision “an obvious dodge of environmental
protections for right whales and commercially valuable marine life,”
Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Catherine Wannamaker
signaled that lawsuits against the anti-submarine warfare training
range may continue. Wannamaker previously fought the project for the
Natural Resources Defense Council.
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration director of
protected resources Jim Lecky defended the training range by pointing
out that “”Right whales rely on low frequencies” for their own
communications. “They’re not as inhibited by high frequency sonar as
other species might be,” Lecky said.
Lecky noted that the major threat to right whales is from
ship strikes, and praised Navy efforts to avoid ramming whales.

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