Okay class, raise your hands. How many of you have been out whale watching off Ventura County’s coastline? Wow, quite a few. And how many hope to go? Those of you milling about in the back with the bewildered look on your faces, yeah you, the tourists, that was on your itinerary, right? Didn’t you mention how you had tickets with a tour operator out of either the Channel Islands or Ventura Harbor to search for grays and humpbacks and even a few blues and orca, or how your uncle doesn’t stop talking about the dolphins that surround his boat every time he takes it for a sail?
Well, you might want to take those trips now, and not just because it’s prime whale watching season.
In a move that further evidence’s President Bush’s disdain for both the constitutional process and the environment, he exempted the U.S. Navy from a law restricting its use of sonar in undersea warfare training off the California coast. According to an Associated Press report filed Jan. 16, Bush signed an exemption to the California Coastal Zone Management Act. According to a Los Angeles federal judge who filed an injunction blocking the Navy’s use of sonar inside a 12-nautical-mile zone along the coast, the practice violated that law. In declaring the exemption, the president argued that the law would hurt the Navy’s ability to conduct realistic training exercises, many of which are conducted with the participation of Naval Base Ventura County.
Environmental groups reacted strongly to the move, claiming that it violated the rule of law by skirting federal and state laws as well as court decisions meant to establish basic protections for whales and other marine mammals. This isn’t just a bleeding-heart concern. Ignoring the President’s failure to recognize the will of legislators and courts – coequal branches of government which have weighed-in emphatically on the matter – Ventura County residents should be upset because of the threat this move poses to our economy.
Yes, national security is an important concern. From a distance, it’s easy to accept the premise that the preparedness of our armed forces is a priority for an effective defense to possible international threats. However, examining the dispute more closely reveals a far more nuanced situation.
First of all, it seems the injunction filed by the federal judge was not an intractable problem for the Navy. By urging the Navy to post lookouts for marine mammals before and during exercises, the injunction seemed to offer an opportunity for a compromise. Yes, lookouts would probably be clunky and could force a change in strategic planning, but if our Navy can’t work around problems like this for training exercises in which it has plenty of time to develop alternatives, how can it be expected to operate in dynamic real-life crisis situations full of unforeseen, inconvenient variables for which it will be forced to alter its strategy.
More importantly, though, tourism is an essential part of this county’s economy. The Channel Islands National Park is a major draw for outside visitors, and whale watching charters attract both outsiders and locals looking for a unique way to spend a day. Any local politician will rave about the spending that tourism generates for our local economy beyond the whale watching and island tours. Restaurants, hotels, shops, gas stations, outdoor outfitters all benefit, as do, of course, local governments who reap sales and hotel tax revenues.
Recently, Ventura officials and politicians have emphasized tourism as a saving grace for the sputtering economy. If they want to show that they are willing enough to challenge powerful interests and take action to actually help the tourist sector survive for the good of the entire community, they will stand up and support efforts to overturn Bush’s exemption. The Oxnard and Ventura city councils, visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce and area harbor officials should file amicus briefs or take other actions to support efforts such as the Natural Resources Defense Council’s move to appeal Bush’s decision. If they do not, they will prove they really do not have the interests of their residents in mind.
Perhaps most importantly, though, they will prove they do not have the interest of our fellow residents of this planet in mind. There is a reason there a diversity of species have survived on Earth. If humans arrogantly continue to act as if our interests supersede those of other species – particularly our fellow mammals – we will surely regret the harm our actions have not only on their future, but ours.