The Navy, Sonar, Marine Mammals, and the President

Bush allows Navy to continue sonar use (OneNewsNow.com)

President Bush signed off on an exemption so that the US Navy can argue for continuing to use mid-frequency sonar systems in training exercises off the coast of southern California. While there is still a court injunction, the article notes that this exemption strengthens the Navy’s position in pushing for use of the mid-frequency sonar during exercises, and everyone will be back in court soon to hash this out.

The article quotes the following:

“The president’s action is an attack on the rule of law,” said Joel Reynolds, director of the council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “By exempting the Navy from basic safeguards under both federal and state law, the president is flouting the will of Congress, the decision of the California Coastal Commission and a ruling by the federal court.”

The Navy has long held that its compliance with various and sundry rules and regulations is voluntary. Mr. Reynolds should know by now that the Navy’s end move is to tell everybody to get stuffed, and do what they were planning to do anyway. The real trick here is to advance, so far as possible, the cause of minimizing damage to marine mammal stocks due to Navy actions, while not doing so in such a way as to cause the Navy to stop listening altogether to environmental activists or more moderate voices for conservation. The rhetoric in the above quote isn’t helpful in this regard. The idiom about one may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb applies here.

And the long-standing tactic in environmental activism of confusing and conflating the different systems of sonar that the Navy uses doesn’t help with the current situation, either. While the general public may be impressed, the people in the Navy tasked with dealing with these issues certainly aren’t put in a good position when research results about one type of sonar are falsely used to argue that the Navy should stop using either other types of sonar, or all sonar systems. There has been some improvement on this score over the years, but things could be better.

There are real problems to be solved concerning the responsible use of military sonar. Getting to the point where solutions are possible is going to be tricky; the Navy does have a legitimate purpose for use of these systems that has not gone away, and there are also legitimate concerns about balancing the Navy’s use of these systems with the risk that they pose for marine mammal stocks. The viewpoint that the Navy might be somehow barred from use simply isn’t feasible, and the possibility that the Navy might stop interacting with civilian interest groups of various sorts to find that appropriate point of balance would be unacceptable.

Hat tip to Ed Brayton.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.