For Immediate Release, July 17, 2023
Maxx Phillips, Center for Biological Diversity, (808) 284-0007, email@example.com
Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Guam’s Endangered Species From Construction, Operation of U.S. Marine Corp Base
HAGÅTÑA, Guam — The Center for Biological Diversity and Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Navy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered species from the construction and operation of Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz in Guam.
The lawsuit also seeks to hold the Navy accountable to its 2017 promise to mitigate harms to Guam’s endangered species from clearing hundreds of acres for the base.
The 4,000-acre base, which officially opened in January, threatens the last individual of a tree species known as håyun lågu on Guam, three extirpated bird species — Guam kingfisher (sihek), Mariana crow (åga), and Guam rail (ko’ko’) — Mariana fruit bats (fanihi), Mariana eight-spot butterflies (ababang), and several more of Guam’s disappearing plants and animals.
“It would be impossible for me to overstate the devastating harm from the U.S. military to Guam’s native forests, wildlife and people,” said Maxx Phillips, Pacific Islands director and staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are literally no birds singing in Guam’s forests anymore after 10 species went extinct. We’re going to court because even more of Guam’s precious and irreplaceable trees, birds and bats are sure to be lost if the Navy keeps ignoring its commitments.”
Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Guam, says the Navy has failed to protect and conserve more than a dozen endangered and threatened species at imminent risk of extinction in Guam from the construction and operation of Camp Blaz in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
“Over six years ago, before clearing hundreds of acres of land to build the new base and live firing range complex, the Navy agreed to take certain measures to ensure the survival of several native animals and plants,” said Leevin T. Camacho, of the Camacho & Taitano Law Group. “This lawsuit is to ensure that the Navy fulfills all, not just some, of the promises it made.”
Camp Blaz is the first new Marine base built since 1952 and is intended to support relocation of 5,000 marines and their dependents from Okinawa, Japan.
Base construction destroyed more than 1,200 acres of some of Guam’s last remaining limestone forests, the habitat for some of the most critically endangered species in the world. Many of these acres were supposed to have been protected as mitigation for habitat loss and disturbance by the U.S. Air Force and are designated as the Guam National Wildlife Refuge.
“The U.S. military has a long history of taking our land and destroying our native species,” said Monaeka Flores, a core member of Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian. “If the U.S. government and military are serious about environmental protection and addressing climate change, they need to start by addressing the devastating environmental effects of their own activities.”
To mitigate the ongoing harm to endangered species from Camp Blaz, in 2017 the Navy agreed to carry out extensive mitigation measures. In particular, the Navy was supposed to eradicate the highly predacious brown tree snake, which was introduced to Guam after World War II, likely as a stowaway in military cargo.
Along with habitat destruction, the snake is a primary reason the kingfisher, crow and rail no longer live on Guam. More than six years since the Navy made that commitment, it has failed even to start landscape control of the snakes despite a proven and safe method for doing so.
Some of the most severe harm to endangered species are from construction of a live-fire training range complex on the northern tip of Guam, in an area known as Ritidian Point. The complex includes a “multi-purpose machine gun range” that resulted in clearing forest adjacent to the last håyun lågu tree with only a 100-foot buffer. With the tree exposed, winds from Typhoon Mawar on May 24 severely damaged the tree and it is unclear if it will survive.
In addition to bulldozing essential habitat for Guam’s endangered species, the firing range complex will involve soldiers shooting millions of rounds of ammunition every year. This will bar access to ancestral lands and fishing grounds for large portions of the year.
The clearing of land and loss of access will also harm cultural ecological knowledge and the survival of Indigenous healing practices.
Frances Meno, a member of Prutehi Litekyan, is an Indigenous CHamoru woman and traditional healer, or yo'åmte. She regularly harvests a variety of native plants to make åmot, or traditional medicine, and hopes the lawsuit will help protect the plants the CHamoru people have depended on for centuries.
“For me, it’s the medicines that we need to help heal our people and continue our practice of traditional healing,” Ms. Meno said. “We have already lost access to so many places to gather our medicines because concrete jungles have been built. Western medicine does not always help our people and we need to return to our natural and spiritual ways of healing.”
The groups are asking a judge to order the Navy to mitigate the damage from base construction and reinitiate consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop additional measures to protect Guam’s imperiled plants and animals.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.