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Biological and Cultural Treasures at Makua to be Protected

Earthjustice lodged a settlement with the US Army on March 31, 2004, that prevents the military from conducting any prescribed burns at Makua Military Reservation and severely limits their use of weapons posing risks of starting fires until the Army completes its consultation with the USFWS. The agreement, however, also allows the Marines to proceed with their live-fire training as long as they follow the limits of the agreement.

Makua Valley on O`ahu has been described by biologists as probably the greatest biological treasure in Hawai'i. The valley is home to 45 federally listed plant and animal species, as well as hundreds of acres of designated critical habitat. However, a decades-long history of live-fire training and fires has left the endangered species barely clinging to survival.

Earthjustice's history of protecting the biological and cultural treasures in and around Makua Military Reservation began in the 1980s when Earthjustice attorney Mike Sherwood wrote a series of threatening letters that resulted in the Army ending the use of rockets shot from helicopters along with a variety of other fire-producing weapons. In 1998, after hundreds of training-related fires in the 1990s culminated in a September 1998 blaze started by a Marine Corps mortar, Earthjustice sent a notice of intent to sue on behalf of the Wai`anae Coast community group Malama Makua. This action prompted the Army to begin consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the Army's activities would not put endangered species or their habitat in jeopardy, but in 1999 the consultations ended with the USFWS noting that if any new threatening situations arose consultations should resume. A situation arose on July 22, 2003, when a "controlled burn" fire went out of control, burning at least 71 endangered plants and approximately 2,100 acres, including over 150 acres of critical habitat. The Army then resumed consultations in October 2003, following another notice of intent to sue, which this time required the consultations to also analyze threats from military activities to newly designated critical habitat at and near Makua.

On March 16, 2004, the most recent chapter in Earthjustice's relationship with Makua began when Malama Makua, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in Hawai'i's federal district court challenging the Army's decision to allow the Marines to conduct live-fire training exercises in Makua Valley the week of March 22, 2004. The training exercises would use mortars and shoulder-launched rockets, which pose serious risks of starting fires. The settlement mentioned above brought this suit to a succesful end.