While the video of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Robert Arrington releasing four sambar deer on Pagan has gotten over 175,000 views in just three days, the trip is drawing the attention of the local crowd for completely different reasons.
Residents who have seen the video are expressing disappointment over the introduction of the deer on Pagan, the presence of the governor on the trip while the islands are in the middle of a pandemic, the use of government equipment and vehicles for the trip, and even the showing of alcohol aboard the Department of Public Safety’s search-and-rescue boat.
Press secretary Kevin Bautista said the governor is promoting the Marianas to a diverse tourism market, while strengthening its reputation as a world-class destination. “The CNMI is 14 islands strong and the Northern Islands have long been both an environmental and cultural priority of Gov. Torres and his administration,” he added. “The purpose of the trip is to promote the Marianas as a world-class destination that holds some of the most unique environments and cultures in the world to both existing and new source markets for tourism.”
Last week, Torres announced during his regular radio news briefing that he will be out for around 7-10 days, depending on the weather, to join Arrington, a YouTube vlogger, and his film crew for a promotional expedition in the Northern Islands.
The video showed Arrington, with the governor, releasing four deer into Pagan. Prior to that, the video showed Department of Land and Natural Resources Secretary Anthony Benavente helping capture the deer that were eventually released.
Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) asked whether there was a permit for the release. “I am troubled by what appears to have been Mr. Arrington’s introduction of deer, a non-native species, to Pagan, an island whose native vegetation and ecosystems have already been heavily impacted by non-native species, including cows, goats, and pigs.”
“No matter how I look at it, introducing new, potentially invasive species to any ecosystem is not ecotourism. And I also honestly felt so sorry for the poor deer, who were captured on the DLNR secretary’s farm…and transported across the ocean for hours to get to Pagan,” she added.
In a Saipan Tribune interview, Benavente said the deer were more of a food source for the people in the Northern Islands.
He said that, prior to the release, the Office of the Governor consulted DLNR, Northern Island Mayor Vicente Santos, and the residents.
When asked about the potential environmental impact of the introduction of the deer, the DLNR secretary said that deer do not destroy wildlife, unlike goats that eat up and kill trees, or pigs that uproot plants.
Benavente also said that Arrington and his crew were only authorized to hunt cows, goats, and pigs. They are not allowed to go after any threatened, endangered, and protected species on the island, which includes coconut crabs, fruit bats, and sharks, among others.
‘Beer’ on DPS boat
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) also took issue with the trip, which he described as a vacation for Torres, even as the unemployment compensation program for the Northern Mariana Islands has not yet taken off.
The delegate also pointed out the alleged bottle of beer that can be seen in the video. “On the trip to the Northern Islands…the gentleman [is] holding on to an opened bottle of beer aboard a Department of Public Safety boat, paid for with federal grants for boating safety programs in the Northern Mariana Islands,” he said. “I would think it would be illegal to carry, let alone be holding an open bottle of beer aboard a police boat. This is certainly not the promotion the Marianas needs for the $100,000 contract the government entered into to promote our islands and people. I can say our people are much better than this.
Aside from Arrington holding the bottle of beer in the video, people on the Impact, DPS’ search-and-rescue boat, can be seen not wearing life vests.
At the press conference yesterday, Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios said the governor is still in the Northern Islands, which particular island remains unknown, and is expected to be back, based on initial plans, this weekend. Palacios also said that Torres calls him every morning, and assured everyone that the governor is safe.
The trip is supposedly intended to allow Arrington to promote the islands on his YouTube channel, DeerMeatForDinner, which has over 2.3 million subscribers.