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Navy Shows Wild Side at New Center

Environment: Point Mugu unveils an expanded facility showcasing the air station's natural surroundings.


POINT MUGU — The short-eared owls weren't hooting, the mallard duck wasn't squawking, and the red-tailed hawk couldn't fly.

Though mounted to wooden stands, the wildlife offered a closer view of the high-flying critters than many Ventura County residents are likely to get.

At Point Mugu Naval Air Station, where officers cut the ribbon on a new environmental center Monday, organizers hope to share a glimpse of local wildlife not always available to local residents.

"The Navy does more than blow things up," said Ron Barrett, the civilian coordinator of the expanded center, a hall of bug-eyed birds and floating fish that are native to the Point Mugu area.

The center, which fills the space once occupied by the base's housing office near the main gate, is planned primarily for touring student groups, but it could be opened to others through the base's public-affairs office. It has moved from a smaller space nearer the beach.

Eventually, the base hopes to connect to a planned Visitors Environmental Learning Center off Pacific Coast Highway.

"There's a lot of history here locked off to the public," said Ron Dow, head of the base's environmental division. "We've got unique, sensitive [ecological] areas the public doesn't know about."

The area is the third-largest concentration of wetlands in the state, the protection of which offers a challenge to base leaders, said Cmdr. Tom Bersson, the public works officer for the base.

"Part of the Navy mission is to try to protect endangered species," Bersson said. "Noise is one challenge, so we've restricted large sections of beach."

In addition to expanding its museum, the base has demonstrated environmental sensitivity in other areas, earning a runner-up designation in a worldwide 1998 Department of the Navy Environmental Award for its preservation of natural resources.

While years ago, Navy personnel might have dumped waste directly on the ground, the base now cuts back on waste-producing processes, said Ivan Cekov, pollution prevention program manager.

For instance, Cekov said, the base has used the 850,000 pounds of dust resulting from sand-blasting paint as a component of concrete.

In addition, large portions of San Nicolas Island are off limits to workers who operate the island's 10,000-foot runway, radar towers and other high-tech equipment used to track test-fired missiles. This leaves such endangered species as the light-footed clapper rail and the snowy plover to peck in peace.

At the Environmental Interpretive Center, where stuffed seals, birds frozen in flight, and bulky woven nests are displayed on shelves, organizers assured visitors that none of the animals were killed merely to be exhibited.

"We're doing something positive here," Barrett, the center coordinator, said.

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