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Bordallo: Wildlife habitat at live-fire training site will be protected

HAGÅTÑA — Guam’s Delegate to Congress Madeleine Bordallo is vouching for the military’s commitment to protect the designated critical habitat for wildlife within the proposed site for the live-fire training range complex or LFTRC at Ritidian.

“As the secretary of the Navy indicated in his recent response letter to me, the surface danger zone reflects an abundance of caution to prevent even a one-in-a-million eventuality,” Bordallo said in a Dec. 15 letter to former Sen. Hope Cristobal.

Representing the group Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian, Cristobal wrote to Bordallo on Oct. 27 aasking for full details of the U.S. Department of Navy’s plan to build a firing range at the site near the Guam National Wildlife Refuge.

“There will be no range construction below the cliff line or elsewhere within Ritidian,” Bordallo said. “Rather, this area will remain designated critical habitat for wildlife listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The surface danger zone, which includes the airspace above Ritidian and extends seaward, is intended to prevent any/all risks to public safety at the Guam National Wildlife Refuge (Ritidian Unit) or out at sea.”

Located on the northernmost tip of Guam, Ritidian contains an abundance of cultural and archeological resources, including latte sets, water wells, limestone mortars, cave drawings, pottery and shell artifacts. The land and seascapes provide evidence of changing climates and sea levels which impacted the settlement and use of this area by the earliest inhabitants of the island. According to Guampedia, archeological research has revealed that the area was the site of a thriving Chamorro village that predates the arrival of the Spanish in 1521 by over 600 years. Recent work has also uncovered a 3,300-year-old fishing camp.

Ritidian covers 371 acres of coral reefs and 832 acres of terrestrial habitats including limestone forests. The refuge is home to native tree snails, small lizards, hawksbill and green sea turtles, the endangered Marianas fruit bat and the Mariana crow.

Bordallo said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “has confirmed that the LFTRC ‘is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Marianas fruit bat [fanihi], the Marianas eight-spot butterfly [ababang] ‘or any of the other endangered or threatened species in the project area.”

Neither will these species’ critical habitat be affected, she added.

“The Service’s wildlife biologists and scientific analyses determined that the proposed LFTRC is, in fact, not likely to significantly impact either the survival or recovery of at-risk species,” Bordallo said. “The Service’s legally enforceable biological opinion makes clear that the conservation measures required for the proposed LFTRC are more than sufficient. “

The name Ritidian is presumed to have been derived from the Chamorro word “Litekyan” which means, “to stir” or “a stirring place.” Language scholars believe it is a reference to the rapidly stirring or churning waters off Ritidian.

Living up to its name, the U.S. Navy’s decision to select Riditian for the firing range project has been stirring protest from Guam activists. Prior to the selection of Ritidian, the Navy initially eyed the ancient village of Pagat. But massive protests prompted the Navy to drop this site from the list.

Bordallo said the Defense Department has confirmed that LFTRC-related construction at Ritidian will be done largely on previously disturbed/degraded land at Andersen Air Force Base not virgin limestone forest. Range construction will impact just 89 acres of primary limestone forest and 111 acres of secondary, previously disturbed limestone forest, she added.

“As part of the Marine relocation, the military will be taking substantial measures to protect wildlife and natural habitat, including rehabilitating approximately 1,000 acres of limestone forest and native vegetation while conserving an additional 5,234 acres on base in northern Guam,” Bordallo said.

“In sum, the mitigation efforts set forth for Andersen Air Force Base and the Marine relocation represent the most expansive and substantial land, native habitat, and wildlife conservation efforts anywhere on Guam in decades.”

This area will remain designated critical habitat for wildlife listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

While the LFTRC area will be off-limits to the public during active training, Bordallo said “public access to ancestral sites and public land and waters is something that I take very seriously.”

“When finalized, the agreement between the Defense Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the LFTRC must afford the people of Guam and visitors alike continued access to all other areas within the Guam National Wildlife Refuge at Litekyan (Ritidian) currently open to the public, including the western caves along the cliff line and beaches,” Bordallo said.

However, she said, the Navy’s response regarding access “left unclear several points regarding how the public will be readily informed when the surface danger zone for the LFTRC will be in effect or not in effect. I believe that public notice is critical, and I will be seeking further clarification from the Defense Department.”