Conservationists Win Halt to Bombing of Antelope Habitat

(02/05/1997) - Phoenix, AZ -- In a much-saluted effort to cease any further harassment or killing of one of America's most critically endangered animals-- the Sonoran pronghorn antelope --the United States Air Force settled a lawsuit with Defenders of Wildlife by agreeing to stop bombing antelope habitat. Defenders today praised the Air Force and announced that it has agreed to temporarily restrict military training in the region of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona that is home to the pronghorn antelope- the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere.

"This is a great step in the right direction for protecting one of our most endangered species," said Defenders' president Rodger Schlickeisen. "The Air Force has proved that they can work with conservationists to prevent the extermination of this incredible creature. Three antelope have been saved already in just the first few days of the cease-fire. But there is more to be done. We must insist that the welfare of the pronghorn be considered in any type of activity that could possibly violate the protection due to the animal under the Endangered Species Act. The antelope must be allowed to survive."

Defenders sued the Air Force in September 1996 to stop training activities that have been severely detrimental to the pronghorn antelope and to its habitat. Low-level flight training out of Luke Air Force Base, strafing, and frequent bombing practices that subjected the antelope to air-to-ground live fire were all part of the repertoire of the military in the last remaining habitat in the United States for pronghorn antelope.

Although placed on the endangered species list 30 years ago, there may be fewer than 100 individual antelope remaining in the United States today. What is left of the population has been bombarded not only with disruptive military activities and habitat loss, but also with a combination of natural factors such as a recent drought that have raised serious concerns about the survival of the species.

Defenders Vice President Jim Wyerman said, "This is a truely magnificent creature that has been clocked at speeds over 60 miles per hour. Yet, as fast as the animal is, it is not capable of outrunning Air Force bombs and Air Force jets. It is good that the Air Force is ready to reconsider its actions."

The settlement entails temporary closure of one of two bomb training sites within the pronghorn's range. One site on High Explosive Hill (HE Hill) will be closed while the other site will be subject to new monitoring protocols implemented to lessen the risk of pronghorn being bombed.

"Last Friday, after observing three antelope by using new monitoring techniques, the Air Force called off its bombing exercise in the area," said Wyerman. "The possibility of extinction is very real, and any effort we can put forth to help each individual prevail is extremely important to the long-term survival of the species."

The settlement reached this week is an interim measure that will provide some relief for the pronghorn population during the time it takes to complete a formal consultation process between the Air Force and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the FWS will assess the potential impact from continued military training activities in the pronghorn's habitat.

Upon completion of a consultation with the FWS, the Air Force would be able to continue training activities as long as those activities do not involve the harming, harassing, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding or killing of the pronghorn, or in any way jeopardize the continued existence of the animal, as provided for under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Schlickeisen concluded, "Military training is integral to the protection of this country. However, ways to conduct such training can be found that will not eradicate the pronghorn antelope. We urge the Air Force and the Fish and Wildlife Service to work together to discover such alternatives. The men and women of the Air Force deserve the ability to train in sensible ways, the pronghorn antelope deserve the right to exist, and our children deserve the right to have such magnificent creatures in their world."



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270