Today the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, filed suit in federal court in the District of Columbia to stop the U.S. Navy from continuing to use the Pacific island of Farallon de Medinilla (FDM) for live-fire training. The island is an important nesting site for more than a dozen species of migratory birds. The suit alleges that the Navy’s bombing exercises violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Located 45 nautical miles north of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the 200-acre island is long and narrow with dramatic ocean cliffs. Uninhabited by humans, FDM hosts breeding colonies of great frigatebirds; masked, red-footed, and brown boobys; red- and white-tailed tropicbirds; white and sooty terns; brown and black noddys; and other species of migratory seabirds. Nesting occurs on FDM all year around. FDM has one of the two small breeding colonies of the great frigatebird in the Mariana chain. It is also the largest known nesting site for masked boobies in the Mariana and Caroline islands. The nonmigratory Micronesian megapode and the Mariana fruit bat, both listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, also inhabit the island.
The Navy, together with other branches of the U.S. military, use Farallon de Medinilla throughout the year for target practice. Exercises include air-to-surface gunnery with missiles and rockets; bombing runs with 500-, 750-, and 2000-pound bombs, precision-guided munitions, and mines; target practice with deck-mounted guns; and firing grenades, machine guns, and shoulder-launched missiles at the island from inflatable vessels. Not surprisingly, birds are killed a result.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), one of the oldest conservation statutes in existence, since 1918 has flatly prohibited harm to migratory birds absent a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Fish and Wildlife Service refused to issue such a permit to the Navy in 1996. The Navy has continued to bomb FDM anyway, claiming that the MBTA doesn’t apply to federal agencies. The Center for Biological Diversity is asking the court to declare that the statute does indeed apply, and to issue an injunction halting all live-fire exercises at FDM unless and until the Navy complies fully with the MBTA.
Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist for CBD, stated, “The continued bombing and destruction of rare and migratory birds on FDM is an ecological travesty and is an embarrassment to our nation. We urge the court to uphold the law and halt the bombing.”
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff commented, “Eighty years ago, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. called the preservation of migratory birds a ‘national interest of very nearly the first magnitude.’ Congress enacted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect that national interest, and we expect all federal agencies, including the Navy, to comply with it.”