From: Cheryl Wittenauer, Associated Press
Published August 30, 2005 12:00 AM

Rumsfeld Links Environmental Protections to Exposure of U.S. Troops in Iraq

ST. LOUIS — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned Monday that procedures designed to protect the environment can sometimes jeopardize U.S. troops and should be balanced against military needs.


"When those concerns are not balanced, the consequence can be unfortunate," he told those gathered here for a White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation.


The military is rarely on the same side as environmentalists in political battles. Many of the Defense Department's training ranges are in remote areas. Since 2002, the Pentagon has asked Congress to exempt the military from various environmental laws or grant it delays in meeting regulatory requirements.


Congress has agreed so far to five of the Pentagon's eight requests, including making changes to the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.


Lawmakers initially rejected most of the Pentagon's appeals after Congress' Government Accountability Office reported in 2002 it had found little to support the Pentagon's claims that environmental laws are hindering military training.


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Rumsfeld mentioned several projects Monday where the military and conservationists worked together. He pointed to the resurgence of the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species, on U.S. military bases in the southeastern United States.


He said the Defense Department recognizes that some lifesaving military training depends on conserving habitat for wildlife and forestalling encroachment by suburban sprawl.


Working with conservation groups and other agencies to set aside buffers for wildlife habitat on nearby private lands has allowed the military to conduct exercises without restrictions on noise and use of airspace while simultaneously protecting the habitat, Rumsfeld said.


Steven McCormick, president of the Nature Conservancy, which has sometimes been a Pentagon partner in securing land and funding for buffers around military bases, said there is a "tremendous opportunity" for more joint efforts.


In northwest Florida, one of the largest open-air military test areas in the country was threatened by rapid growth at its edges until the Pentagon and other groups conserved open space along a 100-mile corridor.


Military bases and suburban communities do not have an easy coexistence, said Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Alex Beehler. Residents don't like low-flying planes or remotely controlled weapons messing with their garage door openers. Nor does the military want urban glow to interfere with military exercises at night, he said.


Military bases in areas once considered remote are now the habitats for a quarter of all 1,268 endangered and threatened species because their grounds are less disturbed, Beehler said.


Source: Associated Press


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