The U.S. Forest Service issued the Navy a special use permit that enables EA-18G Growler training on the Olympic Peninsula.
The permit would allow for up to five years of ground-to-air training at 11 locations within the Olympic National Forest’s Pacific Ranger District.
“This permit allows for more realistic electronic warfare training, which better prepares our service men and women to effectively operate before they go into harm’s way,” said Mike Welding, Navy public affairs officer.
Basically, the Navy will send transmitter trucks to different locations on training days, and one of the officers in each aircraft will have to detect and identify the transmission, Welding said.
This ability is especially important in warfare, as officers must be able to detect, identify and shut down transmissions like enemy radars, he said.
“One of the reasons the Department of Defense wants more Growlers is because of these capabilities,” Welding said.
The Forest Service’s agreement with the Navy is part of a long history of the departments of defense and agriculture collaborating for military training purposes, said Steve Baker, public affairs for the Forest Service.
Baker said the Navy and the Forest Service worked together to ensure that the training would have “no significant impact” on people enjoying the forest or the wildlife contained within. The groups also sought and received public input on the proposed training measures.
“We take our environmental stewardship seriously,” Welding said. “Working closely with federal, state and local agency partners…We balance our national-defense mission with those stewardship responsibilities.”
But some environmental groups, like the North Olympic Group Sierra Club and Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve (COER) believe that the special use permit would allow for the misuse of national lands.
“Our public and private lands are being misused for military warfare training with little more than token or no opportunity for comment,” COER wrote in a 2016 opposition letter, of which North Olympic Group Sierra Club was a signatory.
Janet Marx, chairwoman of the North Olympic Group, said in an email that after being active in all the periods of public comment put forth by the military, her group is still stringently opposed to the permit.
Yet Baker argues that the special use permit requires the Navy to follow certain protocols to safeguard the land and those that use it. For example, the Forest Service will require the Navy to use training locations that are far away from public roads.
“As an added measure of safety, the special use permit requires that emitters be shut down or moved if people are within the 100-foot safety zone around the trucks,” a July 31 press release states.
While Welding said the Navy has not received the final permit from the Forest Service, he expects to see it soon.
“Approval of this special use permit would not increase the number of training flights by more than 10 percent, or one additional flight per day, from what the Navy is currently conducting,” the press release states.