A federal judge has ruled plans by the United States Marines to conduct live-fire training at Makua Valley on O`ahu must be halted. A hearing has been scheduled for April 19 to consider a preliminary injunction to protect species in the valley pending final resolution of the case. U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway granted a request late March 19 for a temporary restraining order in response to a complaint filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Malama Makua.
The complaint argued the live-fire exercises have the potential to start catastrophic fires and potentially wipe out endangered species that exist nowhere else on the planet. The court agreed that, pending further review of these claims, the Marines' training should be enjoined.
"Everyone acknowledges the need for military training, but in the (Endangered Species Act), Congress has charged the court with giving the highest priority to protecting endangered species," Judge Mollway ruled.
The last time the Marines trained at Makua, in September 1998, a misfired mortar landed outside the firebreak roads, starting a wildfire that charred 800-acres, destroying irreplaceable native forest habitat. The Marines' proposed training next week would use over twenty times the number of mortars fired that ill-fated day.
Makua Valley has been described by biologists as one of the great biological treasures in Hawai'i. The valley and its environs are 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 fires from live-fire training has left the endangered species barely clinging to survival.
"We are extremely pleased that the court recognized the need to preserve the status quo," said David Henkin, the Earthjustice attorney representing Malama Makua. "The military cannot conduct training until formal consultation is completed, because it cannot guarantee that the training will not cause irreparable damage to endangered species."
The Marines planned to use mortar and shoulder-launched rockets in Makua Valley, which violates a 2001 agreement and poses a threat of fire which could harm endangered species and cultural sites. The 2001 agreement between the military and Earthjustice outlines exercises permitted in Makua Valley pending completion of an environmental impact statement.
Mollway ruled that because it is likely that the proposed training violates the 2001 agreement, the court does not have to rule on the necessity of a biological assessment or whether training should be allowed before formal consultation is completed.