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By John Ravelo Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (August 28, 2001 – Saipan Tribune)---The United States Navy admitted yesterday that there has been a decrease in the number of birds in the CNMI, particularly on the island of Farallon de Medinilla, which is being used for military bombing exercises.

At present, there are at least eight types of ordnance being used by the military on Farallon de Medinilla.

"The decrease in the number of birds in the Marianas is being seen," Lt. Monica M. Richardson, the Naval Forces Marianas' public affairs officer based in Guam, told the Saipan Tribune by telephone yesterday.

But she was quick to deny, when asked, if the bombing exercises being conducted by the Navy have something to do with the decline in bird population. "It's not the military. I have no idea why."

Richardson said the Navy is not engaged in conducting the environmental impact assessment of the bombing exercises at Farallon, particularly of the bird population. "It's not a military thing."

But in a facsimile message Richardson earlier sent to the Tribune through the Public Information and Protocol Office, she said the Navy has a "legal obligation" to protect endangered species from the bombing exercises.

"The Navy has a legal obligation to apply more stringent protective measures to listed endangered species than to unlisted species, including seabirds," Richardson stated.

Saying that the Navy consulted with biologists regarding the concern on animal life in Farallon de Medinilla, Richardson claimed certain areas on the island were identified so that bombing exercises could be done outside these locations.

"These locations were selected on the western windward side of the island in locations that avoid the one great frigate bird colony located on the northwestern portion of the island. All other nesting occurs on the eastern cliffs and northern portion of the island, all of which are removed from any impact zones," said Richardson.

As for seabirds, the lieutenant said a Navy post-exercise data survey indicated that seabirds' deaths are not largely attributable to naval gunfire on the island.

Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio has expressed strong support for an extensive environmental survey of the island.

Recently, the CNMI House of Representatives passed a resolution that expressed full support for the Navy's training on the island.

The Navy welcomed this development, which is expected to strengthen U.S.-CNMI ties. But it not directly state whether such a political move will merit greater assistance from the federal government, particularly the Department of Defense.

The Navy also said it has no plans to intensify bombing practices on the island even if it has gained the CNMI legislature's support.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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