The Undammed River vs the Unmanned Drone Facility

by Nadine Ludd / Earth First! News

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“Ultimately, the question is, can we shut down Fort Huachuca?”

— Robin Silver, co-founder Center for Biological Diversity

 

Fort Huachuca, AZ–Located just fifteen miles north of the border with Mexico, Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training Battalion, the largest drone training facility in the world; it’s also situated within the watershed of the last free-flowing undammed river in the desert southwest, which it is slowly killing.

Ongoing groundwater pumping by the Fort is draining the San Pedro River and nearby riparian areas, which threatens to drive two federally endangered species, the Huachuca water umbel and southwestern willow flycatcher, extinct.

In the past, the San Pedro, the Rio Grande, Santa Cruz and Colorado formed a network of north-south river corridors for millions of migratory songbirds, butterflies, jaguars and ocelots. Now only the San Pedro survives but the base flow of the river has declined by 67 percent since the 1940s. It’s literally half the river it once was.

Environmental groups have litigated over the Fort’s impacts on the flow of the San Pedro for more than twenty years.  The population of the Fort and the city of Sierra Vista, which has grown up around the base, is well over 50,000. Unsustainable population growth is the main cause behind the pumping of billions of gallons of water from the aquifer more than are recharged by rainwater.

In 2011, in response to a lawsuit by environmentalists, a federal judge rejected a plan by the Army and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to mitigate damage caused by groundwater pumping for the Fort. Calling the plan “legally flawed” the judge said it also failed to protect the river and the effects of pumping on threatened and endangered species. Enviros had previously fought and won the repeal of a legislative rider to the 2002 Defense Authorization Bill, which had exempted Fort Huachuca from key protective provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

Nevertheless, the Army has never fully complied with the requirements in the Endangered Species Act for a “biological opinion” to ensure that its operations do not jeopardize the continued existence of endangered species or destroy critical habitat.

Just this month, a coalition of environmentalists filed a new lawsuit in the U.S. District Court to force the Fort to take measures to halt its impacts on the San Pedro or shut down its operations.

“At this point, ultimately what we need to do is find some of those generals in contempt in a civil court and then assess them personal penalties,” said Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity adding “Ultimately, the question is, can we shut down Fort Huachuca?…I think at this point we need to acknowledge that most of their missions can be done elsewhere…And, at some point, a federal judge needs to get frustrated enough with them to shut down all essential missions…”

Its important to note that Fort Huachuca originally served as the headquarters and forward supply base for the U.S. military’s campaign against both Geronimo, Cochise and Apache resistance to colonization.  Despite the strong words of environmentalists, Fort Huachuca will never be shut down over environmental concerns and U.S. law alone. Today drone operations from the base support U.S. military operations around the world. The U.S. Border Patrol also uses the base for its drone operations along the border. It is but another example where imperialism and ecological devastation run side by side. The defense of the last wild river in the Southwest will require far greater forms of resistance than litigation. Watch this video about the Huachuca water umbel, the unassuming and endangered aquatic plant that has caused Fort Huachuca over 20 years of pain-in-the-ass legal woes:

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