Olympia, WA –U.S. Navy SEALs have temporarily stopped training in Washington state coastal parks while a legal challenge seeking to ban them permanently winds its way through the court system.
Five of the state’s coastal parks have been utilized for special operations exercise and cold-water training for SEALs for over three decades, according to Coffee or Die Magazine.
“This area provides a unique environment of cold water, extreme tidal changes, multi-variant currents, low visibility, complex underwater terrain, climate and rigorous land terrain, which provides an advanced training environment,” U.S. Navy spokesperson Joe Overton told the magazine in an email.
“Although there are several Navy properties in the area, they do not provide the full range of environments needed for this training to be as realistic as possible,” Overton added.
Between 2015 and 2020, the Navy conducted a total of 37 training events in Washington state parks, Overton told Coffee or Die Magazine.
Each consisted of no more than eight trainees and a small safety cadre and lasted between two and 72 hours.
Trainees follow “no trace” principals and the trainings do not include off-road driving, explosives, or live-fire exercises, Overton noted.
He said there have never been any problems between Navy personnel and park visitors in the past.
The Navy’s prior five-year agreement to carry out training in the parks expired in 2020, Coffee or Die Magazine reported.
While trying to renew the agreement, the military proposed expanding the number of locations it could use for training from five parks to 28 parks.
The proposal was met with swift organized opposition.
An overwhelming number of the hundreds of residents who submitted oral and written comments in response to the proposal demanded SEAL training in the state parks stop altogether.
Some complained that the Navy’s presence in the parks will “further militarize our society.”
“We use our parks for peace, solitude, getting back to nature, getting in tune with our family and ourselves. There is no need to use these spaces. Stop, just stop. This is a terrible idea,” one resident wrote.
Another commenter said the Navy has destroyed homes, wildlife, communities, national parks, and the environment with “toxic jet noise and war games” and urged the state to “say no to the Bullish Toxic Navy.”
“In these days of great division in our civil society, we don’t need stealthy men in camo uniforms toting toy guns around our State and County Parks,” one resident wrote. “People frequent parks to escape tension, not to encounter more. Keep the Navy commando training out of our parks!”
Some declared allowing the Navy to continue their long tradition of training at the parks sets a “bad precedent” and that they don’t want the military to “spoil” their park outings.
“We don’t want to be part of an exercise where we are being ‘spied on’ by people carrying ‘fake’ weapons for whatever purpose they conjure up. Please deny this request,” another commenter said.
“The plan to have apparently armed people storming beaches in our state parks is an irresponsible and dangerous idea,” another opined.
One resident said witnessing the exercises could be harmful to children.
“I do not care to catch a glimpse of apparently armed men skulking around and I DEFINITELY do not want to risk having my young grandchildren see such a sight,” their comment read.
Critics further argued the Navy should just use the 46 miles of coastline it already has under its jurisdiction for these training exercises, but military officials said the parks provide a more accurate geographical likeness to the environments SEALs are likely to encounter on missions, Coffee or Die Magazine reported.
Despite the staunch opposition from Washingtonians, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (WPRC) approved a modified version of the Navy’s park use proposal in January of 2021 with a vote of 4-3.
Under the modified agreement, trainings were limited to nighttime hours and certain sections of the parks were restricted from use altogether.
Washington State Parks are generally closed at dark unless they allow camping.
But those modifications weren’t enough to satisfy the Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN), which filed a petition for judicial review against the (WPRC) two months later, alleging the military training proposal violates laws requiring the land to be used by the public for ecological and recreational purposes, Coffee or Die Magazine reported.
If the military is using the parks for training, citizens could avoid the area out of fear they might encounter “the proposed war games or being spied upon by Navy personnel,” the group’s attorneys said in an opening brief.
“It is difficult to find peace in the woods when armed frogmen might be lurking behind every tree,” they added.
WEAN has demanded the court reverse the WPRC’s decision and award the group’s attorney fees and other unspecified costs, according to Coffee or Die Magazine.
A Thurston County District Court judge is slated to hear the case on April 1.