[audubon-news] Navy Plan for Jet Landing Field Imperils Planes, Birds, and Wildlife Refuge

  • From: "BIANCHI, John" <JBIANCHI@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: undisclosed-recipients:;
  • Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2003 13:30:06 -0400

Contact: Chris Canfield


Final EIS Insufficient for Admiral's Recommendation, Audubon Charges

Washington, DC, July 28, 2003 - A senior Navy official's recommendation to 
build a jet landing field adjacent to a national wildlife refuge in North 
Carolina puts at risk planes, birds, and a national treasure, the National 
Audubon Society stated today.  Audubon also found insufficient grounds in the 
Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the plan to justify such a 

Citing the "Global War on Terrorism and Operation Iraqi Freedom" in a letter 
released to media last Friday, Admiral Robert J. Natter, commander of the U.S. 
Atlantic Fleet, said an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) was necessary to support 
new F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet aircraft proposed for bases in Virginia and North 
Carolina.  Admiral Natter recommended the OLF be placed in Washington County, 
North Carolina, just three miles from the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife 

The Pocosin Lakes Refuge is home to as many as 100,000 large migratory birds, 
including snow geese and tundra swans.  These birds flock to the refuge each 
winter to feed and rest before migrating back north to places as far away as 
Arctic Canada and Alaska.  

Throughout the EIS process, biologists, wildlife managers, and even a senior 
military safety expert stressed to the Navy the extreme risks of these birds to 
pilots and the distress to refuge populations the jet field and activity would 
cause.   Yet Admiral Natter failed to mention the issue, instead praising the 
Washington County site for its "compatible land uses [and] minimal 
environmental impact."

"There is nothing compatible between a fast-flying military jet aircraft and 
thousands of 17-pound tundra swans," said Audubon North Carolina Executive 
Director Chris Canfield.  

The Navy proposes buying or condemning up to 30,000 acres around the 2,000-acre 
landing strip.  The Final EIS asserts that birds can be banished by eliminating 
feed crops and by using radar, noisemakers, and lethal means to predict and 
control the movements of the flocks.

"The Navy spent only a few days here at the peak season and set up radar 
tracking for less than a month as the flocks were on the way out," Canfield 
said.  "The biologists who have decades of experience with these birds tell us 
that trying to predict and control their movements is not possible.  Swans are 
notoriously unpredictable and fly as far as 20 miles to feed in a day, right in 
the proposed paths of the Navy planes."

In April, one of the military's leading safety experts, retired Air Force 
Colonel Jeffrey Short, warned the Navy that placing the field so close to the 
wildlife refuge could have "disastrous results." The "father" of the 
computer-based Bird Avoidance Model used by the Navy in justifying its siting, 
Short stated that "in 25 years of dealing with military BASH [bird-aircraft 
strike hazards] issues, I cannot recall a worse place to situate an airfield 
for jet training."

"Our military deserves the best and safest opportunities for training, but 
neither Admiral Natter's inflated language nor the Final EIS justify risking a 
national wildlife treasure and the lives of pilots to put a field at this 
location," said Bob Perciasepe, Senior Vice President of Public Policy for 
Audubon.  "The Navy has other options that are safer for their pilots and less 
damaging to America's great natural heritage."

Almost three years earlier, Admiral Natter initially justified the building of 
a remote landing field to answer the noise complaints of Hampton Roads, 
Virginia, residents who live near Navy bases and fields.  In an October 2000 
letter to a local group, Citizens Concerned About Jet Noise, the admiral stated 
that "It is precisely because of community concerns over jet noise that we are 
carefully exploring the establishment of an additional outlying field to 
accommodate Super Hornet training."

"This earlier letter calls into question the reasons for the Admiral's current 
recommendations," Canfield said.  "It now appears that politics may be holding 
sway over true military needs and safety, not to mention the safeguarding of a 
national wildlife refuge."

Audubon is requesting Acting Secretary of the Navy Hansford T. Johnson to delay 
his decision and look for better solutions than the OLF proposed - sites and 
approaches not considered in the EIS.   North Carolina Governor Michael F. 
Easley made a similar request in a May 2003 letter to the secretary. 

Audubon and other conservation groups are exploring legal challenges to the 
plan and the EIS should the recommendations be acted upon.

Audubon is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat 
that supports them.  Our national network of community-based nature centers and 
chapters, scientific and educational programs, and advocacy on behalf of areas 
sustaining important bird populations, engage millions of people of all ages 
and backgrounds in positive conservation experiences.

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