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SPECIES ACT ENDANGERED? PANEL SAYS LAW HAMPERS MILITARY TESTING.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - A congressional armed services committee is recommending changes to the federal Endangered Species Act, stating the law is impeding military training and testing.

Environmentalists say, however, the changes are unnecessary and unjustified, calling it a calculated move aimed at rolling back environmental laws.

``They are using a time of insecurity and time of war to take down 30 years of conservation law,'' said Daniel Patterson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which has sued the federal government repeatedly to enforce environmental laws.

In its version of the 2004 defense authorization bill, the House Armed Services Committee is recommending changes in the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The desert tortoise, whose habitat includes portions of Edwards Air Force Base, is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

In a report to their House of Representatives colleagues, the committee said its defense bill is recommending changes to the Endangered Species Act that would prohibit further designation of critical habitat on military bases where there is an Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan. The Defense Department wanted the change to prevent the fragmentation of testing and training areas.

``This provision would not annul existing critical habitat areas and would not allow the Department of Defense to take any action that would harm an endangered or threatened species,'' the committee said in a report on the bill.

An Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan is a plan aimed at protecting the environment while allowing a military base to conduct its mission. Edwards is in the process of adopting such a plan.

At Edwards, some 65,000 acres are designated as critical habitat for the desert tortoise. Much of that area is on the base's Precision Impact Range, an area where the release of weapons from airplanes are tested.

The committee is also recommending changes in the Marine Mammal Protection Act, agreeing with a Pentagon position that the law is inhibiting training and testing.

Pentagon officials say they are not seeking blanket exemptions for all missions, just training and testing. Defense officials want flexibility in conducting missions for readiness.

Several environmental groups are fighting the proposed changes, saying there is no evidence that the laws are interfering in any way with training or testing. The groups point out that there are exemptions in the laws that allow the Defense Department to conduct their work, but the Pentagon has never sought to use them.

Environmentalists fear that once the changes are granted, the Pentagon will seek to remove other environmental protections, including eliminating critical habitat designations altogether from military bases, Patterson said.

Among the organizations opposing the changes are the Endangered Species Coalition, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, the National Environmental Trust and the National Wildlife Federation.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 18, 2003
Words:473
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