CNMI groups threaten legal action over endangered species
Environmental groups in the Northern Marianas are moving to take two United States government bodies to court, over an alleged failure to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
Environmental groups in the Northern Marianas are planning to take two United States government bodies to court, saying they failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
A coalition of eight environment groups wants to sue both the US Navy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bridget Grace reports.
Last October, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed 23 new plant and animal species as endangered or threatened in the Northern Marianas and Guam.
But, the US Navy has continued training in the Marianas and hasn't consulted with the service since the new listings.
The founder of the environmental group, Pagan Watch, Pete Perez, says he's worried about the impact of the military's activities on the unique birdlife in both the US territories.
PETE PEREZ: The Tinian Monarch is a bird that's only found on Tinian. The Nightingale Reed-warber is one of the rarest birds in the world. We have beautiful birds that we're not going to have, because the Tinian Monarch, it's habitat is so small, and that's right where the military plans to do their bombing.
Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who filed the letter giving notice of the group's intent to sue, says the law is very clear.
DAVID HENKIN: If the Navy is doing anything that may affect any one of these species, and when they were listed the Fish and Wildlife Service sounded the alarm that all 23 might be imperiled by the Navy activities. If any one of these species is being affected the law is crystal clear, that consultation must be initiated and in the meantime activities need to be curtained.
Mr Henkin says the Navy has not been open about its activities and they have not given advance notice, unlike some other agencies.
DAVID HENKIN: These training and testing activites are happening right now, so the groups we represent are very concerned, about protecting their natural heritage, and they're doing everything the law allows to get to the bottom of what the Navy is doing.
The Mayor of the Northern islands, Jerome Aldan, is backing the environmentalist's move.
JEROME ALDAN: So if someone didn't, you know, follow up with the rules, I cannot say the folks that are going to be suing the Federal and Navy for not doing their job, I"m in support of that. Because we have the environment to protect, and if you've missed something and something like this goes through it could mean chaos to us.
A military spokesman, Lieutenant Tim Gorman, said in a statement that while it is essential the military has realistic training options, it also recognises it has environmental responsiblities.
TIM GORDON: The Navy and Marine Corps have been, and will continue to be good environmental stewards as we prepare for and conduct missions in support of our national security. The Navy will continue to work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure our compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
Environmental groups have criticised the Navy's access to what as been described as the largest military training area in the world.
The Marianas Islands Training and Testing has been expanded to 2.5 million square kilometres.
Pete Perez from Pagan Watch says the environmental process is the only thing they have to hold the military accountable.
PETE PEREZ: They agreed to it, it is the law. And we are in no position to just let them ignore it. We have to do everything we can to insist that they follow that law because that's our only chance to get the impacts up in the open.
He says under the law the Navy has 60 days to cease current activites and start consulting, otherwise the group intends to file suit.
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