Biologists sue Air Force for outsourcing enviro projects

Two biologists at Edwards Air Force Base in California are suing the Air Force for outsourcing environmental projects and allegedly attempting to cover up violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act at the base.

Wanda Deal and Mark Hagan, two civilian biologists at Edwards, along with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group for government employees, filed the lawsuit June 1.

The plaintiffs say the Air Force prefers to hire private contractors because they are less likely to raise environmental concerns or report legal problems for fear of jeopardizing their contracts.

According to the lawsuit, the Air Force has cut its civilian natural resource management workforce at Edwards from four to two over the last several years. Deal and Hagan are the two remaining biologists at the base.

The lands surrounding Edwards Air Force Base contain several unique species, including the desert tortoise, the desert kit fox, various species of owl and rare plant life. Civilian environmental specialists ensure the wildlife is protected from base activities such as bombing, tank maneuvers and low-altitude helicopter training.

The plaintiffs also accuse the Air Force of violating the 1949 Sikes Act, which states that trained Defense Department personnel must oversee fish and wildlife management activities at DoD installations.

Gary Hatch, a spokesman for Edwards Air Force Base, said the base has several levels of oversight for contractors, and that all project managers within its Environmental Management division are government employees. Hatch said the Environmental Management director, three division chiefs, and several branch chiefs oversee contractors and ensure that all projects comply with Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

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