Contact: Chris Canfield 919-929-3899 ccanfield@xxxxxxxxxxx NAVY PLAN FOR JET LANDING FIELD IMPERILS PLANES, BIRDS, AND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE 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 recommendation. 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 Refuge. 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. 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