he Department of the Navy announced Jan. 21 that it has formally selected one of the training alternatives considered in its environmental study of the Southern California (SOCAL) Range Complex.
B.J. Penn, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, signed a Record of Decision (ROD) to continue the current level of training on the range, accommodate the training activities of new classes of ships and aircraft, and increase the instrumentation on the complex.
"The decision I signed today allows the Navy to train in a realistic way that does not harm marine mammals," Penn said.
The Department reached its decision after considering scientific, regulatory, and public comments on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) it prepared to evaluate a set of proposed training options.
The new range instrumentation will serve the additional purpose of providing scientists unprecedented insight into the interaction between the Navy's training and the marine mammal populations passing through the range complex.
"This matrix of silent listening devices off of San Clemente will allow us to definitively track the behaviors and population levels of the marine mammals on the range," said Donald Schregardus, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for the Environment, "which is exciting."
"The SOCAL EIS represents one of the most robust and detailed studies ever conducted on sonar's effects on marine mammals," Penn said. "It was developed using the best available science, and its conclusions are the result of extensive coordination with independent scientists and federal regulators," he added, referring to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency responsible for protecting marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species Acts.
"The Navy is committed to protecting the environment while guarding the nation's freedom," Penn said. "This decision represents a major step forward in our ability to achieve both of those ends."
The SOCAL study is part of a $100 million effort to comprehensively evaluate the environmental impact of the Navy's training activities on all of its training areas. Policies resulting from the fleet-wide review, which began four years ago, will seek to strike the proper balance between the service's statutory requirements to maintain military readiness while minimizing its impact on the environment.
"We need to provide realistic training to our Sailors, and we also need to ensure we're protecting the environment," Penn said. "There is no other option," he added.
The Navy has been training on the SOCAL complex for more than 40 years.
"The SOCAL waters are vital to the nation's prosperity and defense," Penn said. "As such, we must continually and aggressively assess our activities and keep searching for ever more effective ways to minimize our impacts."
The ROD is available on the project's Web site at www.SOCALRangeComplexEIS.com.