Honolulu Star Advertiser Editorial – Our View
May 3, 2017
A portion of Midway Atoll in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is seen from Air Force One.
While on the campaign trail last year, Donald Trump vowed to reverse several of President Barack Obama’s conservation-minded executive orders and reduce environmental regulations. So, it comes as no surprise that President Trump — citing federal overreach and “job-destroying regulations” — is now calling for a review of national monuments, which could result in a rollback of the recently expanded Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
During his first 100 days in office, Trump — with assists from his administration and Republicans in Congress — has reversed or upended more than a dozen green Obama-era policies, with red-flag-raising results that range from the lifting of a ban on new coal leases on public lands, to rejection of an expected federal ban on spraying food crops with the toxic insecticide chlorpyifos.
Last week, the Interior Department was instructed to review about two dozen national monuments created on federal land by presidents in the past two decades under the Antiquities Act. The wrongheaded aim: rescind or re-size some to reopen areas to various “traditional uses,” such as logging and mining, oil and gas exploration, and fishing.
Obama used the law to protect more than 4 million acres and several million square miles of ocean, including Papahanaumokuakea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Last summer, on the heels of 100th anniversary celebrations for the National Park Service, he quadrupled Papahanaumokuakea’s size to create an aquatic “no take” zone larger than all the national parks combined.
Opposing that move — and now asking the Trump administration to remove restrictions on commercial fishing there — was the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Wespac). The council and other opponents argue that the expansion could drive up local fish prices and prompt reliance on imports from less-regulated foreign fisheries; force local boats to travel farther to longline areas; and leave the monument more vulnerable to illegal foreign fishing because local boats will not be present to help monitor the waters.
While it’s tempting to get behind such reasoning, its overall food security argument is short-sighted.
Marine conservation areas give depleted marine species a chance to repopulate, with the prospect of protected fish populations spilling over into neighboring waters. In the long run, then, the move can result in increasing quantity available to fishermen.
What’s more, the monument’s supporters point out that Hawaii’s longline fleet currently hooks a small percentage of fish in the area. And longliners are having no apparent trouble reaching annual bigeye fishing quotas.
As it stands, commercial fishing and mineral extraction are prohibited in the monument. But recreational fishing, removal of fish and other resources for Native Hawaiian cultural practices and scientific research is allowed with a permit. Also fishermen from Kauai and Niihau are free to continue working their traditional grounds.
Marine biologist and explorer Sylvia Earle hopes Papahanau- mokuakea will help touch off an effort to establish a global network of marine-protected areas, dubbed “blue parks,” large enough to save and restore waters grappling with threats tied to climate change, ocean acidification and other problems. Here’s hoping she’s right.
Papahanaumokuakea — the largest among our national monuments at 582,578 square miles — is a likely target for the administration’s proposed tweakings. However, whether a president has the power to revoke a national monument is an untested matter. While presidents can modify a monument designation, the Antiquities Act is silent on whether they can revoke it. That could require approval from Congress, which has reversed monument designations a handful of times since the act was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
Critics contend that in recent decades the act has been abused by presidents seeking environmental legacy status. Former President George W. Bush, for example, established the Marianas Trench and Rose Atoll monuments as well as the initial Pacific Remote Islands and Papahanaumokuakea monuments. Still, it’s difficult to find fault in such a legacy, which got underway with Roosevelt protecting the Grand Canyon from “mineral country” interests. These are shining examples of foresight that preserves for future generations thriving biodiversity in stunning marine and landscapes, historic sites and archaeological treasures.