The location of one of the five firing ranges being built on Northwest Field at Andersen Air Force Base has been moved to protect the endangered Serianthes nelsonii tree.
Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield told a group of Guam lawmakers who visited the location of the tree Friday that the Multi-Purpose Machine Gun Range has been “permanently” relocated sufficiently far away from the tree and its saplings “in compliance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife approved forest buffer zone," according to a press release issued by Joint Region Marianas on Friday after the site visit.
Chatfield also told the visiting senators that no construction has occurred in the area of the tree yet.
Black Construction already started building part of the live-fire training range complex under a $78 million contract it was awarded in August 2017.
Chatfield said the contract for construction of the Multi-Purpose Machine Gun Range near the Serianthes nelsonii will not be awarded until March 2020.
The release from JRM also quotes Albert Borja, the environmental director for Marine Corps Activity Guam, as assuring the senators that “we are investing in propagating growth of endangered plant species in this area of the island, which includes, but is not limited to, the Serianthes nelsonii tree.”
Speaker Tina Muña Barnes requested the site visit, which was led by Chatfield. The media was not allowed to go along.
It was the second visit to the tree’s location for some of the senators, who were first taken the site on June 3.
Lawmakers and activists have called for a pause on all construction activity on the firing range complex, fearing that it threatens the endangered tree’s survival. They also expressed concern about the preservation of artifacts found in nine recently discovered areas within the firing range complex.
Commonly known as a fire tree, the Serianthes nelsonii tree on Northwest Field is believed to be the only known mature, seed-producing Serianthes nelsonii on Guam, although at least 18 other younger Serianthes nelsonii trees are being protected and raised in the Guam National Wildlife Refuge at Ritidian.
The tree was first identified by University of Guam researchers nearly 20 years ago when steps were first taken to protect it.
Last month, 13 of Guam’s 15 senators endorsed Sen. Telena Nelson’s resolution urging Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to use her influence to convince the military to indefinitely “pause” construction work on the complex.
The governor declined to endorse a full stop. She sent a letter to Chatfield asked for a six-month pause in construction around the tree “until December 2019 when the DNA report (on the tree's ability to reproduce) is expected to be final."
Prior to the site visit, Chatfield told The Guam Daily Post said she hopes that the senators “will come away with the understanding that efforts have been going on for years related to the preservation of this species.”
“I’ve never been to the site,” said Sen. Clynt Ridgell, “so I’d like to see what they’ve been doing with regards to the tree.”
"It’s important to see the site and how exposed this particular tree is to the elements," Sen. Telo Taitague said.
Sen. James Moylan said he hopes to learn that the military has met all of its required obligations to protect the area as required by the programmatic agreement which establishes the ground rules for environmental and cultural preservation for the military buildup.
Moylan was the only Guam senator who did not support the Nelson resolution.
Sen. Mary Torres was off island when the resolution vote occurred. She has not taken a stand on the issue yet.
Nelson, a captain in the Guam National Guard, was not able to go on the site visit Friday because she was taking mark in military training exercises.