In a statement submitted to Hawaiʻi’s federal district court yesterday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of the U.S. Army Christine Wormuth announced that the U.S. military no longer needs to conduct live-fire training at Mākua Military Reservation, now or in the future. This decision comes after 25 years of advocacy by Mālama Mākua, represented by Earthjustice, who took the Army to court in 1998 (and again in 2000 and 2009) to compel compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires consideration of alternatives to training at Mākua that can accomplish the Army’s mission with fewer impacts on the environment, sacred sites, and the neighboring Wai‘anae Coast community.
Under the terms of a 2001 settlement with Mālama Mākua, the military has not fired a single shot at Mākua Military Reservation since June 2004, during which time Hawai‘i-based troops repeatedly and successfully deployed to combat without live-fire training at Mākua. It was not until 2008, in a court-ordered environmental impact statement, that the Army conceded that moving destructive training from Mākua was both feasible and reasonable; yet the Army remained committed to resuming live-fire training. With yesterday’s announcement, the Secretary of Defense has removed the threat that Mākua will ever again be subjected to live-fire training.
“We welcome the good news that the Army has decided to end live-fire training at Mākua permanently,” said Mālama Mākua board member Lynette Cruz. “The valley has suffered enough.”
Mākua Military Reservation includes three valleys — Mākua, Kahanahāiki, and Ko‘iahi — which are home to over 40 endangered and threatened species and dozens of sacred and cultural sites, including heiau (Hawaiian temples), burials, and petroglyphs. Decades of live-fire training sparked wildfires that have destroyed native forest habitat, killing imperiled plants and animals. Bullets have pockmarked sacred sites, and countless other sites have been destroyed by aerial bombardment, ship-to-shore shelling, artillery rounds, mortars, and rockets.
“Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the military seized Mākua for training, evicting Hawaiians with the promise that their lands would be cleaned up and returned six months after the end of World War II,” said Mālama Mākua board member Sparky Rodrigues. “Almost 80 years later, we’re still waiting. Ending live-fire training is an important first step in undoing the wrongs of the past and restoring Mākua — which means ‘parents’ in Hawaiian — as our piko (center) of peace.”
“The guns have been silent at Mākua for nearly two decades,” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who has been lead counsel for Mālama Mākua in the NEPA litigation since 1998. “During all that time, which included major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hawai‘i-based military units have carried out their national security mission without destructive live-fire training at Mākua. We applaud Secretary of Defense Austin and Secretary of the Army Wormuth for acknowledging that reality and for making the wise decision to spare Mākua’s irreplaceable cultural and biological treasures from further use of artillery, mortars, and other live-fire training.”
“For over 25 years, Mālama Mākua has worked to protect and honor Mākua Valley,” said Mālama Mākua board member Karen Young. “As we celebrate the Army’s momentous decision to end live-fire training at Mākua, now and forever, we remember those who founded and sustained this movement and are no longer with us.”
Mālama Mākua is planning a celebration of 20 years of peace at Mākua, which will take place at Mākua in the Fall of 2024 and will be open to the public.