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REVIEW & OUTLOOK: Another Bird-Brained Idea

MAY 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002

At least the dispute over naval weapons testing at Vieques is about the wishes of some Puerto Rican citizens. Now we've got a flap over military training that is entirely for the birds.

This month U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan issued an injunction against the U.S. Navy and Marines, barring them from conducting training exercises on Farallon de Medinilla (FDM), a small island in the South Pacific. His decision was in response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, which claimed that military exercises killed birds illegally under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The center complained injury because one of its members is a birdwatcher on nearby Guam.

Environmentalists have increasingly relied on courts to turn well-meaning laws into draconian ones, and this is no exception. These birds are neither threatened nor endangered; their only claim to fame is that they migrate. The Navy has said it kills no more than five of each species (including eggs) annually.

Perhaps more important, the Washington Legal Foundation, which filed a brief on behalf of the military, argued that only the President, as commander-in-chief, can order a cease fire -- not federal courts. Apparently Judge Sullivan disagreed, and ranked a handful of non-endangered birds over national security.

This is only the latest move by extreme greens to hamstring the military. The Army's Makua Military Reservation in Hawaii was closed from 1998 until last October because of lawsuits over a tree snail. Last year several environmental groups sued the government over missile defense, forcing it to do more environmental analysis. These days, the U.S. military spends countless hours and dollars producing environmental impact statements and shooing birds off islands that might otherwise go toward training the men and women who risk their lives to defend us.

The good news is that the green brigade may finally have gone too far. Concerned that frivolous lawsuits have diminished military readiness, House Members recently inserted language into a defense bill that would exempt the military from both the migratory bird treaty and the Endangered Species Act. The overall bill passed 359-58. We assume that all of those Senators who claim to support the war on terror will be working to get a similar provision in the Senate version.

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