Groups sue over Navy sonar use off Northwest coast

AP Photo
AP Photo/Anonymous

SEATTLE (AP) — Conservationists and Native American tribes are suing over the Navy’s expanded use of sonar in training exercises off the Washington, Oregon and California coasts, saying the noise can harass and kill whales and other marine life.

The environmental law firm Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups filed the lawsuit Thursday against the National Marine Fisheries Service, saying it was wrong to approve the Navy’s plan for the expanded training.

They said the regulators should have considered the effects repeated sonar use can have on those species over many years and also required certain restrictions on where the Navy could conduct sonar and other loud activities to protect orcas, humpbacks and other whales, as well as seals, sea lions and dolphins.

Instead, the Navy is required to look around and see if sea mammals are present before they conduct the training.

Kristen Boyles, a Seattle-based attorney with Earthjustice, said it’s the job of the fisheries service to balance the needs of the Navy with measures to protect marine life.

“Nobody’s saying they shouldn’t train,” she said. “But it can’t be possible that it’s no-holds-barred, that there’s no place where this can’t happen.”

In 2010, the fisheries service approved the Navy’s five-year plan for operations in the Northwest Training Range Complex, an area roughly the size of California, about 126,000 nautical square miles, that stretches from the waters off Mendocino County in California to the Canadian border. The Navy has conducted exercises in the training range for 60 years, but in recent years proposed increased weapons testing and submarine training.

The groups want the permit granted to the Navy to be invalidated. They are asking the court to order the fisheries service to study the long-term effects of sonar on marine mammals, in accordance with the Endangered Species Act and other laws.


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