Navy Taking Public Input On Future Training In San Diego Waters
We are back. This is midday edition. I am Steve Walsh. The Navy is gathering public comment and pine for extension of the permit to do testing in San Diego watches. A group of environmentalists believe the Navy has not been enough to limit the potential ill of text on marine mammals the judge agreed in September to talk about the plans for the waters between San Diego and Hawaii. We have Alex Stone the environmental program manager for the US Pacific fleet. We have Wayne Perryman a program leader with the SW. Fisheries Science Ctr. which much approve the plans. We have Zach Smith with the senior attorney Marine mammal protection project at the natural resources Defense Council. Is one of the groups that sued the Navy over its permit. Welcome to everyone. Date for having me. Let's start with Alex. (With the basics. What is the Navy want to do? What we're doing is starting an environmental impact statement. Which is part of environmental planning process we're doing here for Navy testing and training in Southern California and Hawaii. Is really the same type of training we have been doing for decades. We are starting a new round of environmental planning because we operate under permits which are going to be expiring. This has been going on for how long? I would say that gave -- 40 or 50 years. The training has evolved but it is similar type training. In the same areas. Wayne -- you are one of the people who will have to approve this. Or at least your organization. What is it the Navy have to prove before they get a new permit? They have to condense the permit office what they will do will make efforts to minimize the impact on animals and the environment. That is a real give and take process. There will be a lot of questions and answers going forth until our people are convinced this will go forth in a responsible way. Sac you are on the phone. One of the questions here is the impact of sonar. On marine mammals. Can you tell us about your concerns? The impact from sonar cover a range. And can't -- and fisheries service our impacts ranging from significant behavioral disruptions. That rises to the level of for example feeding opportunity. You are in the middle of a big opportunity and you leave the area. That is significant behavioral disruption. That is on one end of the scale. What does sonar to two marine animals with my It is found raised. -- It is soundwaves. If you're close enough to the sound source -- if you are right next to the speaker, you can actually have physical damage. That it based upon the intensity and power of the sound wave when it reaches your organs. That is the kind of modeling that is done that predicts that there will be any permanent hearing damage, or permanent shift. Permanent physical injury. And there is temporary injury that occurs from sound that is intense. At the upper level the sound can hit you and be so disruptive to your natural behaviors that use the -- that you during activities that are critical to your life function. How do we document there has been any impact -- that this is occurring and that there has been an impact? We rely upon the Navy and fisheries modeling. The last time around their own modeling based on best available science predicted -- authorized night was 6 million incidences of this kind of significant behavioral disruption including permanent and temporary hearing loss. This is based on best science of an understanding of what happens to marine mammals when they are within certain distance of the source. Nine points 6 million incidences -- is that correct? I don't know the numbers correctly but I'm not surprised is a high level because sound carry such a high distance in the water. Even if there are no animals close, you will impact other animals. He is also right that we know sound can be dismissed the -- disruptive of natural behaviors. The real tough question is what kind of impact does that have on individual animals? Is moving off a prime feeding site for a week during an is a size going to have a significant impact on that individual? The questions we're trying to address but they are not easy to ask. We see the impact we see things like animals who have been beached around the world. A couple of dolphins that have watched us -- ashore last month I believe. We have some Sanders last month. The condition of the animals looked suspicious. We're still doing analysis to see what we think the cause of death was. We have to mortalities several years ago that we think are clearly related to some testing done. Those are fairly rare events in my mind. And animal has to be close to the source to have a mortality associated with it. Alex are you disputing anything at this point. Maybe the Navy is having an impact. Does sonar used by your ships are having an impact on marine life. That some of these animals could be beaching themselves? These are very where cases and we are at the beginning of the process of looking at these impacts in this new environmental impact statement. All these things are going to be studied in this environmental impact statement we are starting right now. You are just starting the process but you have had these permits. What do you do? What is the plan and what has been the plan over time to limit the impact? That's a great question. Have developed with white organization the national fisheries service a comprehensive set of medication measures that are specific to each type of testing and training event we do. They are designed to actually minimize the potential environmental impacts while at the same time allowing us to do the important testing and training we need to do. Is it a matter of you have a good sense of when wells are migrating to San Diego? Do you stop testing during that time? We have a lot of different mitigation measures. All the things you mentioned. Our primary focus is using the ships -- when we are using active sonar we use our ship lookouts and the acoustic information the ship is collecting if marine animals are vocalizing. We power down or turn off the solar -- sonar system if they are marine animals close to the source. We avoid the serious types of impacts that would occur from the exposed to sound when the animal is close to the flowers -- source. So what is a solution? Stop training? Stop tasting? Has never been the position of the organization. But we achieved and what we thought when we sued and won the last time was a more common sense approach of how can we achieve the Navy's training and testing goals while at the same time identifying and recognizing various -- that are important to marine areas -- animals as they are both areas. They did have the lookout regime but they did not have it in place. And understanding and identification of important areas to marine mammals that require a particular activity Tuesdays during particular time of the year or just all year round to protect a particular population. What we have done with the settlement that we did recently in our last challenge is just that. We sat down and were able to identify areas the Navy continues to train and test apparently with no problems meeting its goals. At the same time we're getting that benefit to animals by keeping sonar out of areas important to them. Do we have a good sense -- the Navy has been doing studies to get a sense of where the migration patterns are. How much of that work has been done? How good do you think the information is right now? The information always requires improvement. We do have really good information that the fisheries services use working with sizes around the United States to identify these biologically important areas. There are other areas identified in other ranges. Critical habitat for endangered species that require close attention. Just because and area is important is not believe it translates into a set standard of activities that can or cannot take place. It just means we should look at it more closely and say if we are going to conduct activities, are there other alternatives? We do have the science -- could it be better quests? Yes. Fortunately the Navy is in the process of continually funding this time of research. Which they are required to do under the law that we have on the books as far as federal agencies that go out and conduct activities that harm the environment. They have to do studies to have an understanding of what those impacts are. Lane do you feel like you have all the information it needs to be able to determine whether or not the plan will work? We would always like to have more data. We have a real active collaborative relationship with the military. We're taking data we would normally collect to assess the size of populations and doing a lot of spatial modeling. So we can go to the Navy and they can come to us and say we need to do this kind of work and we can say this time of ocean is the one that is going to have the lowest density of marine mammals during the time period you want to work. Wicket make those models better if we can collect more data. The Navy has been supportive. Via spent a lot of time on this project. Is the state of being collected right now? Just last year we did a full survey from the Mexican border to the Canadian border asking specifically those types of questions. Surveying offshore collecting data on abundance of animals -- that data goes into the models we are using. To refine our predictions of areas where the density of marine mammals is low. I would add the environmental impact statement we are starting right now provides us an opportunity to bring in that latest information into our new analysis. We are currently trying to improve our analysis with the best available data. The changes you have made so far -- can you point to some concrete things you have been able to do on the last few years? Changing the way you do training The mitigation measures I talked about are relatively new. Mitigation measures where we use our lookouts -- we use acoustic information the ships are collecting to minimize our activities. Those are all have been developed to this process the Navy is undertaking here and across the whole area where the Navy trains. There was a public hearing last night in San Diego. How did it go? It went well. That a lot of people show up? There were about one dozen people they are. It was not a large group of people who were very interested in the topic. We welcome the opportunity to get information out. The public meeting is not the only way. There is also our website and other information. We will have two more meetings tomorrow and Saturday in Hawaii. If you were not able to make it to the meeting there is a website and an opportunity to provide comments through January 12. All the comments we received we will use those when we develop the environmental impact statement. I know people care about this among the general public but it is hard to be able to weigh in and both a public hearing. What exactly you want to see people do -- because this is such a sophisticated topic. Is very challenging. The oceans are getting crowded. We have a lot of recovered populations of animals so they are are more animals around. Trying to squeeze in opportunities -- is becoming more and more challenging. The best we can do is try to find the areas where we can mitigate the impact as much as we can. If there's something particularly sensitive about this quarter between San Diego and Hawaii that maybe at some point the decision needs to be made to move farther away from this court or? The study include the transit corridor door between the two areas. The majority of our training is done around Southern California and around the Hawaiian Islands. The transit line in between shows that transiting through their during training -- but Southern California especially is really critical for Navy training. We have a lot of fixed ranges here. Of course we have the majority specifically in San Diego. We rely on center California -- Southern California to certify all carrier strike groups in the whole specifics fleet. Is part of the solutions open to move farther away from these heavily populated areas? If we were starting from scratch every happy information today when we were deciding where to [Indiscernible]. That would make sense. It does not make sense today. The Navy has already spent an incredible amount of resources putting in place a fixed range. It is unrealistic to think that now what should happen is they should just give up and move to another base. Where we can do -- we can continue to identify areas within this relatively smaller area of Southern California the are more important or less importance of marine mammals. Hopefully that provides the Navy and opportunity to still meet its needs. This has been Alex Stone the environmental planning program manager for the US Pacific fleet. Wayne Perryman and Zach Smith. Thank you to all of you for being on. This has been a good conversation.'s We have an update on the story we have been following. Law enforcement has been on the scene in San Bernardino where multiple people were shot. It happened at a social services Center. Some people were being seen will away on a gurney. Police say they are looking for one or more gunmen. We will keep following that issue as it evolves throughout the day. Coming up after the break we will look at whether Tijuana is San Diego latest affordable neighborhood or its last affordable neighborhood. This is midday edition. We will be back in a minute.
The U.S. Navy is gathering public comment in preparation for applying for an extension of its permit to do training and testing in San Diego waters. The current permit expires in 2018.
Alex Stone, environmental planning program manager at the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the same training has been done for 40 to 50 years.
“It’s really the same type of training we’ve been doing for decades, but we’re starting a new round of environmental planning,” Stone told KPBS Midday Edition. “The training has evolved, but it’s similar training in the same areas.”
The testing has been controversial because of potential risks to marine mammals. Earlier this year, the Navy settled a lawsuit by environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, for illegally harming sea mammals during training.
According the the NRDC, terms of the settlement included designating certain areas as off limits for sonar and underwater explosions, and taking precautions against potential ship strikes. The terms of the settlement only apply to the current permit period.
Zak Smith, senior attorney for the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC, said 9.6 million incidents have occurred nationwide that show the training has disrupted the behaviors of marine animals.
Smith compared the training to a person who stands next to a speaker at a rock concert. He said the goal of the organization is to ensure there isn’t permanent damage to animals.
“How can we achieve the Navy training, while at the same time identifying and recognizing areas important for marine animals, and staying out of those areas,” Smith said.
The Navy held a public meeting Tuesday night in San Diego and will continue to collect input through Jan. 12. Comments can be submitted online at www.hstteis.com.