Some of you may be wondering what is happening with the Presidential Executive Order instructing the Secretary of Interior to review a selection of national monument. I have been keeping up on the information and summarize the current status for you below.
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has completed his review of 21 national monuments and submitted his draft recommendations to the President at the end of last week. Several monuments were removed from his list before the end of the comment periods and he indicated in public interviews that he recommended changing the boundaries for a handful of sites. Zinke indicated his intention to reduce the size of a couple of land-based monuments, but has yet to be specific about any others. There is no indication than any decisions have actually been made.
As many of you likely know, President Trump tasked Zinke with reviewing national monuments created after 1996 up through the end of the Obama administration. The review consisted of 1) direct fact finding, 2) allowing for public comments, and 3) reviewing existing policies. The deadline for Zinke’s report to the President was Aug. 24, 2017.
A quick read of Zinke’s report summary to the President doesn’t provide any specific decisions or identify what changes will be made where. Instead, the summary discusses how information was collected along with general comments about public participation. According to a press release from the Department of Interior, the report includes considerations of more than 2.7 million public comments, countless meetings and listening sessions. Over 800,000 public comments on marine national monuments alone and 99 percent of these comments supported our marine treasures. Apparently, the actual report is currently in draft form and weeks away from being made final.
Reviewing the news coming out of the White House and the Department of Interior, press releases indicated that 90 percent overwhelmingly support U.S. monuments and for monument protections to remain as is. It was found that the only opponents seemed to be those connected with large-scale industry who want to exploit the resources.
While it’s great that President Trump isn’t likely to overturn our Mariana Trench Marine Monument, opening the area for any kind of extraction, especially industrial scale commercial fishing, is equally as bad. There are no direct benefits to the people of the Northern Marianas if this happens. Our local fishing resources will continue to decline. It will only get worse.
Another possibility is that Zinke’s report will sit with the President indefinitely. If this happens, then the draft management plan that we were promised six years ago, will be set back even further. Zinke and the President should release the management plan before any other decisions are made about the Mariana Trench MNM. Any decision made prior to the release of the management plan should be declared null and void given that one of the three criteria for review will clearly have not been met.
The Friends of the Trench Monument has been asking for a sanctuary from the beginning and we still stand by our original vision from 10 years ago. We didn’t get it from Bush or Obama and we hope we can get it from Trump. We strongly support and advocate that a sanctuary is best way forward for the people of the Northern Marianas.