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House's Armed Services Committee OKs Measure

By Dionesis Tamondong

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (May 3, 2002 - Pacific Daily News and The Associated Press)---A congressional committee passed a measure that would permit the military to continue live-fire exercises on a Northern Marianas island.

"Even if this bill were to be signed into law, it would not take effect until Oct. 1," said Guam Delegate Robert Underwood.

The House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee passed the measure yesterday after a federal judge on Wednesday ordered a 30-day ban on military bombing exercises at Farallon de Medinilla.

Although the ruling is in effect for 30 days, Guam and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands officials fear the economic impact the federal order may have on their islands.

The Navy complied with the order by U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan in Washington, D.C., but the Department of Defense also is fighting the order on two fronts.

Sullivan ruled in March that the military bombing exercises violated a 1918 treaty that protects migratory birds.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Navy and the Defense Department in 2000 to prevent the military from conducting live-fire training exercises.

According to the lawsuit, those exercises allegedly kill and otherwise harm several species of migratory birds without a permit, in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Through the courts, the Defense Department is seeking an emergency stay of the injunction through the appellate level, according to Guam Delegate Robert Underwood's office.

The military is also working with members of Congress to protect the use of the bombing range through a measure in the Department of Defense Authorization Act.

The bill, which will be placed on the House floor for debate, does not provide an immediate solution for the Navy.

The provision would allow the "accidental taking" of birds during the bombing exercises as long as the military is able to obtain a permit, Underwood said.

Underwood said the Migratory Bird Treaty Act allows hunters to kill migratory birds as long they have a permit. The delegate said it was "ironic" that federal agencies currently are not granted access to such a permit.

The uninhabited island -- measuring 0.3 miles wide and 1.7 miles long -- was the only site in the Western Pacific authorized for live-fire exercises.

''If denied long-term use of the range, it would have a tremendously negative impact on Navy readiness,'' Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Gordon, spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said Wednesday.

Target placement

Gordon said the Navy worked with biologists to strategically place seven targets around the island, away from nesting and environmentally sensitive areas, and performs regular population surveys.

''The bird population there has maintained similar growth patterns as the rest of the islands in the Marinas,'' he said.

The Air Force, Navy and Marines train on the island about four days a week. Exercises range from dropping one-ton bombs to firing machine guns from aircraft and ships.

''It is vital to training our forward deployed Naval forces,'' Gordon said.

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam). 

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