CORONADO —The Navy SEALs may be among the toughest troops in the military, but they're retreating in the face of two unlikely enemies – the Western snowy plover and the least tern.
The shorebirds are protected species, and their nesting area has expanded across the SEALs’ training ground at the coronado Naval Amphibious Base near San Diego, forcing the SEALs onto an ever-shrinking portion of the property.
About 40 percent of the acreage is off-limits for parts of the six-month nesting season, said Jay Hanson, the Navy’s top regional natural resource official.
He said, “We only see their numbers getting larger and larger.”
Similar problems are afflicting a growing number of military training bases.
The Marines are battling proposed federal designation of 51,000 additional acres of Camp Pendleton in San Diego County as critical wildlife habitat, a move the agency says would imperil readiness.
And the Army continues trying to overcome environmental objections that have held up plans to expand the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, near Barstow.
The installation is home to the rare desert tortoise.
Nowhere does the military face more problems than in California, home to more endangered species than any other state and a steadily growing human population. Nearly all the two dozen major military installations in the state face major challenges to operations because of environmental concerns or objections from human neighbors.
In almost every case, the installations were established in isolated locations. But as time passed and the areas grew more crowded, military officials found themselves under pressure to confine their activities and care for the animals taking refuge on their properties.
Navy officials said there's an irony to the situation with the snowy plovers and least terns.
The Navy has gone to lengths to protect them, including trapping their enemies and poisoning the ants that attack their eggs. And now the seabirds' nests take up so much room on the SEALs’ 10-mile beachfront that the units must curtail their training exercises.
“We’re in the unhappy position of being penalized for our success,” Hanson said.