Navy plans to continue military training in Gulf of Alaska

U.S. Navy officials have confirmed plans to continue participating with other U.S. military forces in periodic training activities in the Gulf of Alaska — an exercise known as Northern Edge — this year again in May.

A statement released in early January said that Pacific Air Forces currently plans to hold Northern Edge 2023 military exercises in May in the air, land and maritime areas of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex. Part of the planning considerations include orienting the at-sea training in the Gulf of Alaska to specifically avoid overlap with salmon fishery management areas, migration corridors and areas of greatest species occurrence, military officials said.

In advance of Northern Edge exercises in years past, military officials have met with residents of several communities, including Cordova, to hear residents’ concerns and respond to questions from locals and environmental entities about potential impact of military exercises on fish and wildlife — including marine mammals. 

“It is disappointing to see the Navy continue to hold these hazardous drills in the Gulf of Alaska,” said Zeke Brown, executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United. “As an organization whose objective it is to perpetuate healthy fisheries in the region, CDFU will continue to advocate alongside the numerous community voices opposing these activities.”

These training activities include use of active sonar in the Gulf of Alaska Temporary Maritime Activities Area and Western Maneuver Area — collectively known as the Gulf of Alaska Study Area. The Navy advised that training activities include use of active sonar in the temporary maritime activities area and weapon systems at sea that may use non-explosive or explosive munitions.

The decision followed release of a record of decision for the final supplemental Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement for Navy training activities in the gulf.

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Navy officials said their decision came after consideration of military objectives — including best available science, potential impacts activities may have on human, natural, and cultural environments,  and input and expertise from elected officials, government agencies, tribes, nongovernmental organizations, and the public on the proposal and environmental analysis.

The Navy is keenly aware that climate change and other issues present significant concerns to the marine environment and species in the Gulf of Alaska as well as across the planet, said Julianne Stanford, with the Navy Region Northwest Public Affairs Office. Navy analysis is included in the Gulf of Alaska final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement.

Though the Navy as a whole is constantly striving to reduce its environmental footprint through technology, policy, and procedural improvements, the Navy’s incremental contribution to these effects in the Gulf of Alaska is extremely small, Navy officials said.

Northern Edge training is set for May, but exact dates have not yet been released.

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