By Ann McCreary

The public has until Nov. 17 to comment on a U.S. Navy proposal to conduct electronic warfare training exercises in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

The training exercises are proposed to take place on the Tonasket Ranger District under a five-year special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service, according to an environmental assessment (EA) by the Navy that found the warfare training would have no significant environmental impacts.

Although the project is not proposed to take place near the Methow Valley, some local residents have expressed concern about the warfare training. Dana Visalli of Twisp said he planned to attend an open house on Tuesday (Nov. 4) in Okanogan, hosted by the Forest Service and the Navy.

“I don’t think a lot of people in the Methow know about it,” Visalli said this week.

Electronic warfare is described in the report as “any military action involving the use of electromagnetic and directed energy to control the electromagnetic spectrum or to attack the enemy.”

The purpose of electronic warfare is to control the electromagnetic spectrum “for use in such applications as communications systems, navigation systems and defense-related systems,” according to the EA, which was completed in September.

The proposed trainings would take on the Okanogan and Colville national forests, as well as on Forest Service and state land on the Olympic Peninsula.

On the Tonasket Ranger District, the Navy proposes stationing two or three trucks carrying equipment that emits electromagnetic radiation “to simulate modern electronic warfare threats in an open-air environment to effectively and efficiently train the operators of these systems,” according to the EA.

The mobile emitter trucks would be stationed at one of eight training sites on Okanogan and Colville national forest lands, using pull-outs or turnarounds that already exist, the EA said.

The communications exercises would take place between aircraft and ground-based trucks stationed on the national forest. Navy aircraft flying overhead at about 9,000 feet would pick up the electromagnetic radiation emissions, according to information from the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

“To train sailors in locating the source … the emitters will be frequently relocated among the selected sites, challenging crew in determining the emitter’s location,” the EA said.

Several types of aircraft that fly out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island train in electronic warfare, according to the EA.

In the analysis of public health and safety issues associated with the project, the EA noted that physical reactions to electromagnetic radiation “are subject to the power and energy of the emitted electromagnetic wave. Human tissue is directly susceptible to shock or burns when metallic objects, which have absorbed high electromagnetic radiation are touched … similar to the type of burn produced inside a microwave oven.”

The EA said there “are no conclusive direct hazards to human tissue as a result of electromagnetic radiation. Links to DNA fragmentation, leukemia and cancer due to intermittent exposure to extremely high levels of electromagnetic radiation are speculative.”

In a press release issued in August, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island said the mobile vans would have two types of transmitters. The output of one transmitter is “similar to microwave emitters that are used by television or sporting events vans to broadcast signals,” and the other is “comparable to marine radar used on residential boats.”

The transmitters operate “in frequencies similar to those used for satellite communications, some Wi-Fi devices, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices and weather radar systems,” said Captain Mike Nortier, commanding officer of the naval air station.

The signals will be sent skyward, toward the Pacific Ocean, and pose no threat to people or animals on the ground, Nortier said.

Risks to public health and safety would not be significant, the EA stated, because standard procedures to limit public access or exposure to electromagnetic emissions would be followed, including conducting training in areas far from public housing or residents.

During training, a crew member would watch for animals or people who might enter the training area. If people or animals come within 100 feet of the vans when they are in use, the mobile emitters would be shut down and, if required, would relocate to another of the planned emitter sites, according to the EA.

The study evaluated impacts on birds, mammals and other species in the area proposed for the training exercises. The Forest Service lands under consideration are home to grizzly bears, lynx, Northern spotted owls, gray wolves, woodland caribou and marbled murrelet.

The training exercises would create noise from the mobile trucks and generators that run the emitters, but “will have no direct or indirect changes that would have a considerable impact on habitat” or the species in the area, the assessment concluded.

The environmental report can be found online at www.fs.fed.us/nepa/nepa_project_exp.php?project=45621. Questions can be addressed to Sara White, Okanogan-Wenatchee National environmental coordinator, at (509) 664-9232, or by email at sarajwhite@fs.fed.us.

Comments may be submitted at comments-pacificnorthwest-okanogan-tonasket@fs.fed.us .