The Trump administration’s review process for 29 national monuments, including the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, is sparking some outrage.
The official public comment period began Friday, and more than 15,000 comments about the proposal flooded into the federal government within the first four days.
Letters are running more than 100 to 1 against making any changes in use or boundaries of the 29 sites, all of which had previously been declared historically or environmentally significant.
Of more than 75 letters specifically mentioning Papahanaumokuakea, only one letter-writer asked for it to be reviewed by federal officials.
Using words like “outraged,” “incredulous and disappointed,” and “disheartened and perplexed,” many Americans are voicing dismay that the federal government would consider revoking a monument’s designation or opening the lands to commercial fishing, forestry or natural resource extraction.
“No president in history has ever attempted to reverse a monument designation,’ wrote Erik M. Holst of Pollock Pines, California, a retired fisheries biologist. “I do not think now is the time to start.”
So far, the letters have been almost universally supportive of the marine monuments in the Pacific, including Papahanaumokuakea, which covers 583,000 square miles; Rose Atoll, 13,400 square miles; the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, 490,000 square miles; and the Marianas Trench Preserve, 95,200 square miles.
Rose Atoll is in American Samoa, the Marianas Trench is in the Northern Marianas and Papahanaumokuakea includes the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
“I urge you to keep the Marine National Monument Papahanaumokuakea intact,” wrote Nityamo Lian, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. “It is very important to the health of the planet and us to keep the oceans protected.”
People who want access to the lands for other uses, such as oil and gas exploration, timber harvesting or commercial fishing, have asked President Donald Trump to consider reversing or changing the monument designations for the preserves. The monuments were created under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to establish the preserves by presidential proclamation.
Both Republican and Democratic presidents have authorized such monuments in the past, but President Barack Obama designated or expanded 34 such sites across the country, more than any other president, including Papahanaumokuakea. Obama expanded the marine preserve fourfold last summer.
In Hawaii, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, a regulatory agency that tends to side with the fishing industry, had urged Trump to review the designations of the marine monuments. Republican politicians in American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas and Guam also lobbied for the monument designations to be overturned.
Wespac’s Eric Kingma issued this statement Monday:
The Council is working on comments to be submitted during the comment period. We will be reiterating our opposition to the monument fishing provisions that were dictated through presidential proclamations using the Antiquities Act, which circumvents the nation’s primary fishery management law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Other monuments that have been opened for review include Bears Ears in Utah, Craters of the Moon in Idaho and Hanford Reach in Washington.
In late April, Trump issued an executive order instructing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to conduct the review of the 29 sites. According to Trump, all the sites selected for review had been designated since 1996, encompassed more than 100,000 acres or were monuments where “expansion was made without adequate public outreach.” The administration said that in those cases local communities had not been given enough opportunity to comment and protest plans for large preserves, particularly where they hurt local employment.
On Friday, the Interior Department opened a public comment process for people to make their views known to federal officials. Comments can be submitted online by entering DOI-2017-0002 in the search bar. Comments can also be submitted by mail at Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington DC 20240.
Some letter-writers are applauding the Trump administration’s decision to review the monuments.
“I am in strong support of opening the Papahanaumokuakea NMN to fishing and suggest that the others in the Pacific also be reviewed for the questionable protections afforded by each monument and considerate of regional customs and traditions,” wrote Roy Morioka, an Oahu fisherman.
Morioka blamed imported seafood for causing the hepatitis A outbreaks, and said local fish would cause fewer health complications.
“There is no substitute for freshly caught island fish for use in sashimi and poke markets and our fish are subject to U.S. FDA seafood safety regulations,” he wrote.
Letter-writers are being given the choice of making their names publicly available or not, and most are deciding to keep their identities private.
Written comments must be received by the Interior Department by July 10.
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at email@example.com.