Marine Pacific Forces assured the Tinian Cattlemen Association that it will not lose funding from U.S Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service because the U.S. military has already identified new areas within leased lands that is available for grazing.
Last week, MARFORPAC and the CNMI government signed a lease back agreement that will allow the island’s ranchers the use of military lands until July 2016.
In an email to Saipan Tribune over the weekend, MARFORPAC executive director Craig B. Whelden said the military has been engaging with stakeholders on multiple occasions to understand concerns with the future of cattle grazing within the military leased lands on Tinian.
“Working collaboratively with a variety of groups—most notably, the Tinian Cattlemen Association and USDA—we have been able to identify new areas within the leased lands that could be made available for grazing that will not conflict with the proposed ranges and training areas,” he said.
“The newly identified lands would replace, almost one for one, currently leased lands and a transition plan is under development,” he added.
Whelden said that in the interim, MARFORPAC has worked with Joint Region Marianas to extend the current lease from a month-to-month status to a long-term lease through 2016.
“Tinian cattlemen are able to access USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program grant money that was previously unavailable. My staff looks forward to continuing discussion with the stakeholders on this important issue, and other,” Whelden added.
A draft MARFORPAC map prepared in February this year and obtained by Saipan Tribune through various sources showed four potential agricultural grazing areas within the military leased area. Two areas of potential for ranchers are north of Tinian International Airport, while the other two are west of the airport.
Earlier, Department of Navy’s Real Estate Division director C. Hope Marini wrote Department of Public Lands Secretary Pedro A. Tenorio authorizing CNMI to use the leaseback property until July 31, 2016, noting that land use analysis is presently underway for grazing purposes if and where compatible with Department of Defense purposes after termination of the lease back.
Whelden noted that more will be seen with the release of the draft CNMI Joint Military Training for Environmental Impact Study early April.
According to Marine Corps Activity Guam Maj. Neal V. Fisher II, the CJMT EIS will be released online and via delivery of CDs to various public locations such as libraries, community centers, CNMI’s mayor offices, etc.
“The public will be able to submit comments immediately after its release via email or standard mail and in person during the public meetings [on] Saipan and Tinian which will occur in May. As we move closer to the spring we will be able to provide an exact date for both the release of the draft and the public meetings,” Fisher said.
Fisher also said that Whelden visits the CNMI fairly regularly to meet with various elected officials and stakeholders regarding the progress of the CJMT EIS.