Welcome to the Activist War College

Rarely are environmental and animal-rights groups accused of possessing any military expertise. But that hasn’t stopped United Poultry Concerns (UPC), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) from berating the military on how to train and protect U.S. soldiers.

First it was a UPC letter writing campaign to the President. “If the government is serious about protecting American soldiers from deadly poisons,” UPC whined, “they will use a high tech detection system instead of subjecting innocent creatures to massive suffering with no benefit to the soldiers in any case.” A subsequent UPC “action alert” urged activists to argue: “That a military capable of blowing up the world must rely on chickens to detect lethal agents is ludicrous.” Surely the President and his top generals appreciate this sound military advice from a woman who sleeps with chickens.

Not to be left out, PETA scolded the armed forces for using dolphins to detect mines in the waters around an Iraqi port. According to PETA, dolphins “cannot provide a reliable defense or surveillance for our troops… our troops deserve the best defense possible and this isn’t it.” A “wildlife biologist” with PETA adds that dolphins “are not a good choice for the military.”

The U.S. Navy uses dolphins because “their biological sonar is far superior to human systems for detecting objects in the water and on the sea bed.” It pledged to continue the use of dolphins “as long as they are more effective than existing hardware.” But now that PETA has registered its highly informed opinion, perhaps the Navy will reconsider.

Thankfully, PETA and UPC have about as much chance of being taken seriously by the military as Donald Duck. Unfortunately, the NRDC has been treated as more credible.

The activist group’s recent attack on military exemptions from certain environmental regulations has a significant chance of influencing policy. The Pentagon’s requests for exemptions “are not necessary to ensure America’s military might,” according to the NRDC. While technically true — the U.S. army will remain the world’s best even if it is forced to jump through endless Green hoops — there clearly are environmental regulations that undermine military training and readiness. The NRDC nonetheless concludes that the military’s requests are “not necessary.”

“The Pentagon’s proposal,” says the NRDC, “would allow the military to harm marine mammals by … weakening the statutory definition of ‘harassment,’ thereby allowing a range of Pentagon activities that potentially harm marine mammals — including ones that cause physical injury or impair their ability to breed, nurse, feed or migrate.”

Got that? Training troops might get in the way of some animals trying to “breed” and “migrate.” Horrors! No wonder the NRDC thinks “The Armed Services Committees are not the place to consider any of this material.” For them, troop readiness is apparently a matter for the EPA.

A lawsuit filed by the NRDC aims to limit training at Camp Pendleton to about 40 percent of the available land, because the base also plays host to the gnatcatcher, the tidewater goby, and the arroyo toad. Presumably, the NRDC doesn’t believe this is an issue for the Armed Services Committees.

One author writes: “At Fort Hood, Texas, use of camouflage netting is limited for the sake of protected birds. In Arizona, practice bombing runs are cancelled when antelope wander within five kilometers of a target area. Night maneuvers in the Southwest have gone the way of the dodo in deference to desert tortoises. Low-level combat flying in Idaho has ended so elk can mate undisturbed.”

Fort Hood is a particularly egregious example. Seventy percent of its training land is designated as critical habitat for the spotted owl, even though there are no spotted owls to be found. An overlapping one-third is committed to habitat for the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler. Only 16 percent of Fort Hood is fully available for training. But none of this is a matter for the Armed Services Committees.

We’re still waiting for the animal rights radicals at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to claim that the meat in army field rations is bad for our soldiers’ stamina. Stay tuned.

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