Interior secretary vague following protected areas assessment
The fate of America’s largest protected conservation area — Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands — remains in doubt.
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The fate of America’s largest protected conservation area — the 580,000-square-mile Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands — remains in doubt after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday sent undisclosed recommendations to President Donald Trump about 27 national monuments that Trump ordered reviewed.
In a statement, Zinke offered no details about his findings or his recommendations — although the Washington Post reported that Zinke recommended reducing the size of Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-
Escalante national monuments, citing unidentified sources.
The absence of any mention in Zinke’s statement about any of the monuments under review itself is raising concerns about the future of Papahanaumokuakea and other monuments, including the 86,888-square-mile Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument around Howland, Baker and Jarvis islands and Johnston, Wake and Palmyra atolls.
“We’re certainly concerned about the lack of transparency,” said David Henkin, a staff attorney for the Honolulu office of Earthjustice. “They’re kind of hiding the ball when we would expect them to be transparent about what they’re thinking of planning to do to our public lands and waters.”
Officials with the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council last year fought against expanding Papahanaumokuakea and have been lobbying Trump to remove restrictions on commercial fishing within the monument area, according to Earthjustice.
Wespac officials did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.
“We’re concerned the administration is thinking of reopening these areas for exploitation,” Henkin said. “There’s a lot of cause for concern.”
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono wrote in an email to the
Honolulu Star-Advertiser that Zinke’s announcement “continues the Trump administration’s contempt for protecting our public lands and ocean resources. Given the few details provided, it’s still possible that the President will try to roll back the expansion of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument — which would be a serious mistake. I urge the President and Secretary Zinke to end this secretive, sham review, heed the overwhelming public support of expansion, and commit to protecting our public lands and oceans.”
Trump ordered the review of national monuments that were created by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
The Interior Department said Thursday that the review generated 2.4 million public comments.
Virginia-based Key-Log Economics analyzed the
1.3 million publicly available comments made during the review process and found that more than 99.2 percent of the comments supported protecting the monuments.
In a statement, Key-Log Economics founder Spencer Phillips said, “It is clear from our analysis that Americans love their parks and public lands, such as Bears Ears, Katahdin Woods and Waters, Grand Staircase-Escalanate, and other national monuments. They want these nationally significant lands to remain protected.”
Support was high for Papahanaumokuakea and for the Pacific Remote Islands Marine Monument. Some 94.4 of comments opposed Trump’s executive order calling for the review of Papahanaumokuakea, and
92.9 percent opposed the review of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine Monument, Key-Log Economics found.
The Interior Department said Thursday that Trump initiated the review “to restore trust in the multiple-use mission of the Department and to give rural communities a voice in federal land management decisions.”
Secretary Zinke said in a statement, “No president should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object. The recommendations I sent to the president on national monuments will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and also provide a much needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses, and recreation.”
In a statement to the Star-Advertiser, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said she supports preserving the Antiquities Act and does not want her congressional colleagues “to feel they need to amend the law in any way.”
“I do not know whether he (Zinke) has made any recommendations regarding Papahanaumokuakea and I look forward to reviewing Sec. Zinke’s recommendations in detail,” Hanabusa said. “It’s best for us to wait and see.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard wrote in an email to the Star-Advertiser, “Together, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument protect over 7,000 species, many of them found nowhere else in the world, and their unique habitat represent many of the healthiest and least disturbed coral reefs in U.S. waters. I’ve joined the more than 50,000 Americans that have submitted comments in strong support for protecting our national monuments, and urge the administration to listen to these concerns and preserve these monuments for generations to come.”
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a trustee of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, said OHA “continues to stand firmly behind the countless Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, scientists, conservationists and others who called for the creation and recent expansion of Papahanaumokuakea. OHA strongly believes that the current size, protections and management structure of the monument — including OHA’s role as co-trustee — must be maintained in order to preserve the unique historic, cultural and scientific elements of the region.”