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Navy Training Spurs Public Concerns, Myths

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Public hearings on the US Navy’s Northwest Training Range Complex have turned, predictably enough, into a circus of public outrage and Navy insistence that no big changes are planned.  While it’s true that the training being proposed is little different than that which has been ongoing for many years (decades) off the Pacific Northwest coast, with little indication of major impacts on wildlife or fisheries, the public is making the most of the first opportunity for public comment, now that the Navy is finally conducting full Environmental Impact Statements to assess their offshore training activities.

Some of the public and media comments have fostered what the Navy termed “myths” about their training, largely centered on the idea that the activities (including extensive active sonar sonobuoy training) are new or that the range is being expanded south of northern California.  Some public comments have also fostered the misinterpretation that “takes” of 3.5 million marine mammals indicate likely deaths.  Yet in its attempts to dampen the fire, the Navy has gone a bit overboard in downplaying its impacts, including characterizing “takes” as any animal that hears sonar, whereas it is an estimate of how many animals will exhibit any behavioral response to the sounds (and, in fact the Navy has a complex, and controversial, system by which it estimates how many who hear sounds will indeed react in some way that necessitates that they be counted as behavioral “takes.”).  The Navy spokesmen also suggested that when they “found possible impacts” to fish, turtles, and whales, they “called in the NMFS to figure out what to do about it;” these impacts are not new discoveries, and indeed the Navy and NMFS have worked together to help advance our understanding about them, but the Navy has largely developed its own mitigation measures, with NMFS more or less going along with Navy proposals.  Of particular consequence is the question of whether the Navy should set more areas aside as off-limits to sonar training so as to keep the activities away from concentrations of wildlife (sonar impacts, especially behavioral, extend for fifty miles or more, complicating the effort to protect key areas).

For more on the northern California hearings, see

And, see the Navy’s NWTR Complex EIS website


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