Ocean Protection, Marine Protected Areas
August 27 2017

The Public Speaks Out For Marine Monuments, But Will It Be Enough?

by Pete Stauffer

Several months ago, the Trump administration began an unprecedented “review” of our national monuments and marine sanctuaries, claiming the public had not been properly consulted on these designations. With much fanfare, the Department of Interior and Department of Commerce opened public comment periods to solicit input on whether national treasures such as Papahānaumokuākea in Hawaii and the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in California should be revoked or shrunk in size.

Now, the results are in and the feedback is unequivocal. The public wants our national monuments and marine sanctuaries protected!

According to an analysis by the Marine Conservation Institute (MCI), public comments collected at regulations.gov show near unanimous support for maintaining “blue parks” such as marine monuments and sanctuaries as they currently exist. The review included 1,000 randomly selected comments from the nearly one hundred thousand submissions recorded. "Our analysis of a statistically valid random sample of the comments filed shows over 99 percent support for monuments and sanctuaries," said MCI President Lance Morgan.

So, this should put the issue to rest about revoking or shrinking our nation’s “blue parks,” right? Well, not so fast.

Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke filed recommendations to reduce the size of several land-based monuments, despite over a million comments received by the Department in support of protecting national monument designations. As part of a secret report submitted to President Trump (so much for public transparency), the Secretary recommended that at least three sites be shrunk, including Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, as well as Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

The announcement drew immediate backlash from numerous groups and citizens across the country who pointed to the overwhelming public support expressed during the recent comment opportunities. The administration’s move also represents an unprecedented attack on protected areas in the United States; 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. 

More to the point, the Trump administration simply does not have the legal authority to get rid of any portion of a national monument. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 affirmed that only Congress has the authority to modify national monuments. That’s why any executive action to change the boundaries of national monuments is sure to be challenged in court.

For supporters of marine monuments and sanctuaries (aka the 99%), Secretary Zinke’s recent action is evidence that we must continue to fight to defend these special ocean places. The Department’s recommendations to President Trump on eleven ocean sites is expected sometime this fall, providing additional time to demonstrate public support for keeping our marine monuments and sanctuaries intact.

The Surfrider Foundation is proud to be part of a national coalition working to defend our country’s marine monuments and sanctuaries from attacks by the Trump administration. Surfrider also stands ready to defend the individual monuments that our chapters have supported, including Hawaii's Papahānaumokuākea, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine Monument. 

The administration’s actions represent a very real attack on America’s national parks, public lands and oceans that help define who we are as a nation. Attempts to revoke or change the fabric of national monuments is an assault on our nation’s historical, cultural and natural heritage. As recreational users, we must speak out for our monuments and sanctuaries, as well as laws like the Antiquities Act that allow our nation's greatest resources to be protected for future generations.

WHAT CAN YOU DO RIGHT NOW?

Make Your Voice Heard. Please pick up the phone and call your Congressional Representatives in 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.