From: David Spring, Director
Washington Environmental Protection Coalition
49006 SE 115th Street North Bend WA 98045
Cell: (425) 876-9149
To: Greg Wahl, Project Lead,
USDA-Forest Service, Olympic National Forest
1835 Black Lake Blvd SW Olympia, WA 98512
RE: Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range Special Use Permit Application
and Environmental Assessment #42759
TRANSMITTED TO https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=42759
Dear Mr. Wahl,
For the record, this is my public comment regarding the US Navy's application for a Special Use Permit to expand their use of US Forest Service lands beginning in 2015. As described in the Navy's Environmental Assessment, submitted in September 2014, the US Navy's proposed expansion includes allowing three “mobile electromagnetic radiation emitters” to be moved around between 12 different locations on US Forest Service land (and 3 locations on Washington State Department of Natural Resources land) where the mobile transmitters will “interact” with up to 135 “US Navy F18 Growler military jets” for 12 to 16 hours per day for 260 days per year for the next 10 to 20 years. The Forest Service land that the US Navy is requesting a Special Use Permit to use is on or near Critical Habitat for endangered species, included the Northern Spotted Owls and Marbled Murrelets. The US Navy claims in their Environmental Assessment that these electronic warfare games, which would include more than 22,000 “fly overs” of critical habitat for these endangered species per year, “may affect, but would not adversely affect” these endangered species. However, because the US Forest Service is under a binding 1994 Record of Decision (1994 ROD) to affirmatively protect these endangered species and their critical habitat, the US Forest Service is required to independently and accurately determine whether granting a Special Use Permit to the US Navy would harm these endangered species or their habitat.
Among the Navy's claims in their 2014 Environmental Assessment are the following:
1. Northern Spotted Owls would not be disturbed by a noise level of 92 decibels. This claim is based entirely on a misrepresentation of a study of Mexican spotted owls.
2. The noise emitted by Navy F18 Growler military jets would not exceed 89 decibels. This claim was extrapolated from a measurement nearly 5 miles away from the jets.
3. The F18 Growler jets would be at least 1200 feet above the surface of critical habitat.
4. The F18 Growler jets would not exceed the maximum adverse sound level of 92 decibels for more than one second.
5. In 2010, the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Biological Opinion finding that fly overs of the F18 Growler “may affect, but would not adversely affect” Northern Spotted Owls, Marbled Murrelets and their critical habitat based on the above 4 claims.
In this public comment, I will provide substantial scientific evidence that the Navy's claims are not accurate. First, we will show that, according to US Fish and Wildlife Service written policies, northern spotted owls may be adversely affected by noise as low as 60 decibels.
Northern spotted owls have specifically evolved for adaptation to the extremely quiet environment of an Old Growth Forest with a background noise level as low as 10 decibels. Such sensitive hearing cannot be reconciled with the Mexican Spotted Owl study. Nor are the conditions proposed by the Navy for the Olympic Electronic Warfare Range similar to the Mexican Spotted Owl study. In the Mexican Spotted Owl study (Delaney, D. K., T. G. Grubb, P. Beier, L. L. Pater, and M. H. Reiser. 1999. Effects of helicopter noise on Mexican Spotted Owls. J. Wildl. Manage. 63:60-76), helicopters approached the owls gradually at a speed of less than 80 miles per hour. By comparison, the Navy proposes to have military jets approach Northern Spotted Owls at speeds of greater than 1000 miles per hour. The maximum noise level of a single helicopter was only 90 dB while the maximum noise level of three or more Navy jets is 130 dB – which is 16 times louder than 90 dB. Finally, the authors of the Mexican study allowed an average of 13 days between tests to avoid chronic exposure of the owls – while the Navy is proposing to subject owls to noise bombardments up to 11 times a day, 5 days a week for 52 weeks in a row for 260 days per year for the next 10 to 20 years. It is not appropriate for the US Navy to use a single and radically different study of the effect of helicopters on Mexican spotted owls to make assumptions regarding the effect of Growler jets with speeds ten times higher and noise levels 16 times greater – to make conclusions about adverse affects on Northern Spotted Owls.
Second, we will provide substantial scientific evidence that the F18 Growler military jets are much louder that the “Prowler” jets they are replacing. According to a 2008 US Navy Auditor report, the F18 Growler military jets emit noise up to 150 decibels (which equals 130 decibels at 1200 feet). This toxic noise level was confirmed in a private independent study in 2012. The Navy is well aware of the toxic noise problem of the F18 Growler jets and yet elected to deliberately provide misleading information to the US Fish and Wildlife Service about the noise levels of F18 Growler jets in 2010. Combined with 10 times faster aircraft speed and 64 times louder maximum noise level means that the Northern Spotted Owls would be subject to an impact that was 5.6 million times greater than the impact Mexican Spotted Owls were subjected to in the 1996 study used by the Navy to justify their proposed project.
Impact on Mexican Spotted Owls versus Impact on Northern Spotted Owls
Third, we will show that spotted owls nest in Old Growth trees which extend more than 200 feet above the ground. Therefore, the Navy's proposed standard of flying 1200 feet above the ground would result in F18 Growler jets flying as close as 1000 feet above spotted owls during their military flyovers of the three mobile transmitters should the US Forest Service grant a Special Use Permit to allow the mobile transmitters on land which has been designated as critical habitat for spotted owls. This would expose spotted owls to noise levels over 120 decibels and possibly as high as 140 decibels.
Fourth, whether using the “60 decibel standard” recommended by the US Fish and Wildlife Service or the “90 decibel standard” recommended by the US Navy, we will show that the F18 Growler fly overs would exceed harmful noise levels for much more than one second and likely as long as 60 seconds.
Fifth, we will show that the US Fish and Wildlife Service failed to independently and accurately verify the claims made by the US Navy when they issued their 2010 Biological Opinion. Instead, the US Fish and Wildlife Service merely assumed that the claims made by the Navy were accurate. The US Fish and Wildlife Service accepted the US Navy's absurd claim that a study of the effect of a single slow moving and relatively quiet helicopter on Mexican Spotted owls could be used to predict the effect of several fast moving and extremely loud military jets would have on Northern Spotted Owls.
It is disturbing that the Navy knowingly submitted misleading information to the US Forest Service regarding the loudness of the F18 Growler jets. And it is even more disturbing that the US Fish and Wildlife Service apparently did not even bother to read the Mexican Owl Study – where they would have learned that helicopters move much more slowly than military jets. However, what is most disturbing is that the US Fish and Wildlife Service failed to make an independent and accurate assessment of the claims made by the Navy. This failure to perform a required duty by the US Fish and Wildlife Service was a clear violation of the Endangered Species Act and a serious violation of the 1994 Record of Decision. Had the US Fish and Wildlife Service conducted an independent investigation, they would have found that the noise levels of F18 Growler fly overs would not only adversely affect the spotted owls, but would greatly accelerate the rate of extinction of spotted owls.