Margie Whithah's letter (cont.)

 

The Navy's call for input from the public regarding the environmental, cultural, and recreational impact of this proposal is appreciated. I understand that receiving such input will enable the Navy to identify issues to be addressed in an Environmental Assessment. Since my head is not full of the factual expertise of a botanist, ornithologist, acoustics engineer, nor archaeologist, I can only speak from my heart and personal experiences in strong opposition to the bombing range proposal.

From an early age I have been fortunate to be instilled with an appreciation for Nature in general and the wonders of California's natural beauty specifically. Though I'm not from the Central Coast region myself, my father's recollections of his own childhood: going to school barefoot, smelling the fragrances and seeing the beauty of the native plants in his Central Coast town, have left a lasting impression on me. As a child, I vividly recall my father taking me to appreciate the unspoiled sights and smells of Nature in that area. He hoped that I, too, could appreciate firsthand that continuity of an experience that had made an impression on him until his dying days. I grew up and returned to share the treasures of the Central Coast and its inland coastal valleys with my husband, later with our children, and now they do the same with their own friends and loved ones.

My husband and I had the pleasure to return to the Big Sur Region for a long weekend this past November. We found hiking from the beach up to the 2,000-foot summit of the Santa Lucia range through the gorgeous Partington Canyon to be an idyllic, even spiritual experience. The following day was surreal, lingering at little Lucia with its lovely bounty of fragrant flora. Journeying down to Sand Dollar Beach we were enchanted by people recreating with silent paragliders, kayaks, surfboards, a stroll, or a sunbath on the beach in the balmy, warm haze of fall. We drove up over the incredible Nacimiento Road toward Jolon through the rugged mountainside and then into the golden valleys, absorbing the unique peacefulness of the environment. Our appreciation of the unspoiled beauty and serenity of the area would have been shattered had there been jet fighter bombers shrieking in from the coast. Please, rethink the proposal.

While many environments have changed drastically in California in the span of this state's relatively brief history, the Central Coast, Santa Lucia ranges, and its inland valleys have been fortunate to remain fairly pristine. For the majority of the past 10,000 years, this region has been respected by its inhabitants who have lived in harmony with the land. In recent history, however, newcomers' intrusions have impacted this area and its earlier inhabitants negatively. In college, I did some extensive research about this unfortunate era and how it impacted the indigenous peoples of the Central Coast. I feel it is now our duty to make every effort to facilitate the Salinan Nation's recovering of their heritage and to preserve this area's unique environment. We must do so for the appreciation of its natural aspects, for the protection of its endangered species and habitats, for the study of its cultural history, and for the rare opportunity this area provides for the spiritual serenity sought by many.

Last week, by coincidence, I met a bright little fourth-grade girl, photocopying her thoughtfully written report on the San Antonio de Padua Mission. She proudly shared her report with me, similar to the ones created by most Californian school children. Often these same children also get to share the rewarding family experience of making a mission model together and, perhaps, taking a visit to the mission they've studied. Little Brooke hadn't visited San Antonio Valley to see California's most wonderfully restored mission yet, but she dreamed of doing so one day. How shattered her dream will be if she arrives with her little sister and parents only to be terrified by the sounds of jet bombers overhead.

As passionate backpackers, my husband and I have spent much time hiking the Ventana Wilderness, Los Padres National Forest, and coastal valleys of the Santa Lucia Range. Our trips, some up to nine days with just our packs on our backs, have enriched our lives with deeper appreciation for the natural beauty, diverse ecology, serenity, and cultural history of the area. Immersing ourselves so completely, lingering beside waterfalls and creeks, sitting beside Native American grinding stones, fording icy rivers, awakening to ice and snow, discovering clusters of lady bugs on pine boughs, hearing wild boars snorting, climbing summits to appreciate breathtaking views ... all would be lost if we had been assaulted by the roar of fighter jets overhead. We have experienced these jets' terrifying sounds, sights, and sonic booms while backpacking in the Sierras, and I know how shaken we felt, I can only imagine the impact it must have on startled birds and other wildlife. I am so sorry to hear that such jet maneuvers are already occurring in the Central Coast Region. I strongly question the necessity of such military preparedness in this region.

The preciousness of the Santa Lucia ranges is what moved me to name our first child "Laurel Lucia."

• "Laurel," as in the distinctively scented bay tree found in this area. To some, laurels are a sacred symbol of triumph, peace, and eternity -- appropriate symbols for the botanical preservation of all of Nature's treasures in this area.

• "Lucia," as in this jewel of a mountain range which "brings for light" and enlightenment for those who are enriched by the serenity this area affords.

What I feel when I think of fighter jets shrieking through these ranges dropping inert bombs, is not unlike what I'd feel upon witnessing of an assault on a defenseless child. We must protect and nurture this precious area as if it were own child and not carry out such an abusive proposal.

Shortly before my father died of a brain tumor, he had a simple regret, an unfulfilled wish to go to one of the highest summits in the coastal range to see the beauty of the valleys and the azure ocean from above. With saint-like help from a very kind ranger, we fulfilled my father's wish, a last, yet eternal wish. One simple wish that I would like to make is that for generations to come, anyone who desires to do so, could look down from any point of the Santa Lucia range in its monastic silence and see only eagles and condors soar with no military bull's eyes on the valley floor nor aircraft carriers off the nearby shore.

My father served proudly in Naval Intelligence during World War II, though there were aspects of his service assignment he was not proud to have engaged in. He was proud of his three brothers who served as World War II bomber wing pilots, one giving his life. As devoted as my father was to the Navy, I'm quite sure he wouldn't have wanted this proposal carried out. My only brother served the Navy in Viet Nam, surviving a helicopter crash, avoiding the U.S.S. Forrestal tragedy by one day, and making documentary films for the Admiral. Of those three happenings, the one he tries to block the most out of his memory is his involvement in the filmmaking ... what he actually saw was not at all what the Navy presented in the finished films. Having backpacked the area around San Antonio Valley with my brother, discussing this issue with him, and being skeptical himself, I know he opposes the Navy's proposal.

I am very skeptical, as well. I am skeptical of: the rational for this target range proposal; whether or not we are being told all the facts; what would really happen if the proposal successfully passes through Environmental Assessment; and what disastrous effects such a plan and any unforeseen aviation mishaps could have on this most unique environment.

Last spring, I attended a college graduation address given by Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General. As the voice of the United Nations and a fellow citizen of the earth, his adamant plea to the graduates was: "One of our main responsibilities is to leave to successor generations a sustainable future... The world needs you to lead in safeguarding the global environment... The inescapable global reality is that we are plundering our children's future... Policy-makers seem to be giving the environment frighteningly low priority...All too often a collective blindfold seems to descend on those in a position to make a difference, obscuring the dangerous path we are on... All too often management of the environment is viewed as a luxury, not a necessity...All too often, the issue is framed as an intractable conflict between economy and ecology."

Though the Doolittle Training Range is but a tiny piece of the global environment, is the savings of $3 million per year in fuel worth the future impact on this precious region now or for centuries to come? Kofi Annan decided that the most important message he could impart to Stanford graduates was to choose a life of activism and engagement in public affairs, improving upon the older generations' records, and building the environmental stewardship that is needed so badly. As part of the older generation, I plead with you also, please take a fresh look at your proposal and, if you must, responsibly find a more appropriate place for such preparedness training.

Margie Whitnah
San Carlos, CA

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