The Washington Post has published a secret memo that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent to President Trump last month with recommendations to both shrink and reduce protections for national monuments. The leak of the memo follows a four-month public process which saw overwhelming support expressed for national monuments, including 99% support for ocean monuments.
Among the ten monuments targeted for diminished protection are three ocean designations, including one off New England and two in the Pacific Ocean. The memo recommends opening the Northeast Canyons & Seamounts monument to commercial fishing, while reducing the size of the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll monuments (and possibly opening both to commercial fishing and offshore drilling.)
The news leak of the Trump administration’s proposal prompted a swift and negative response across the country, particularly from communities and recreationalists that benefit directly from monuments. Ever since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. Presidents of both political parties have used the Antiquities Act to protect our nation’s most outstanding public lands and waters through creating national monuments. The administration’s attacks on these national treasures are unprecedented. Never before has the United States eliminated, at a large scale and in a systematic way, permanent protections for national parks, wilderness areas, or national monuments.
With respect to ocean monuments, the move is particularly galling given the enormous support expressed for “blue parks” during the federal government’s recent comment period. According to an analysis by the Marine Conservation Institute (MCI), public comments collected at regulations.gov show near unanimous support for maintaining marine monuments and sanctuaries as they currently exist. Furthermore, science from around the world shows that marine protected areas are one of the most effective ways to protect and restore ocean ecosystems, including the rich diversity of animals and plants found in the marine environment. Given the many threats facing our ocean, this is hardly the time to roll back protections.
Finally, the Department of Interior’s “review process” of national monuments has been both flawed and characterized by a lack of transparency. As profiled in a recent article in Outside Magazine, Secretary Zinke has been less than honest in his approach to the issue. Moreover, the Department’s actions have raised serious questions about the legality of the Trump administration modifying monuments designated under the Antiquities Act. Any actions taken to diminish protections for monuments are sure to be challenged in court.
The good news is that no final decisions have been made on the proposed changes to national monuments. While President Trump considers the recommendations provided to him by Secretary Zinke, citizens have the opportunity to speak out in support of these special places. Please pick up the phone and call your Congressional Representatives in Washington D.C. and ask them to defend the Antiquities Act and existing Marine Monuments and National Marine Sanctuaries. Find your member's phone numbers here: Senate and House.
The Surfrider Foundation is proud to be part of a national coalition working to defend our country’s marine monuments from attacks by the current administration. We will continue to fight to protect these important designations, including the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine Monument whose designation our members worked so hard to support, for the future.