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By John Ravelo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (April 30, 2002 – Saipan Tribune)---Reiterating the administration’s support for continued military bombing exercises on Farallon de Mendinilla, Lt. Gov. Diego T. Benavente said the U.S. Congress is expected to act responsibly in allowing military activity to continue without compromising environmental protection and that of migratory bird habitats.

Benavente made the comments in reaction to a bill pending in the U.S. Congress, which would exempt Farallon de Mendinilla from the requirements of the Migratory Birds Treaty Act.

Washington Rep. Pete A. Tenorio reported that "the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Readiness included language in the Fiscal Year 2003 Appropriations Bill for the Department of Defense to exempt the military from some environmental laws to improve military bases and bombing ranges."

Meantime, a federal court is expected to hear a petition for an injunction against the military’s bombing practices on the island, after the court declared that such an activity violates the Migratory Birds Treaty Act.

"We are definitely concerned about the environment and the wildlife that is on the island. In the past, I have witnessed myself personally in my visits to the Northern Islands on how minimal the effects have been with the use of the island for target practice by the military, and also to the existing birds that continue to live in the island," Benavente said.

He said he has not read the exact language of the bill, "but I’m sure Congress will act responsibly as well in its consideration for the natural habitat or the environment at [Farallon de] Mendinilla as well as the other islands."

If the use of Farallon de Mendinilla by the military is eventually exempted by legislation from the requirements mandated by the Migratory Birds Treaty Act, this would have a legal effect on the court order regarding the bombing practices.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, filed the legal action to stop the continued bombing on the island, which it claims to be operating without a required permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Besides destroying bird and wildlife habitats, the bombings have allegedly caused grass fires that resulted in the destruction of vegetation and erosion on the island.

The CBD has claimed that the military uses various ordnance in the practice, including 2,000-pound bombs and missiles, resulting in the killing of birds.

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

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