President Trump’s announcement last week of his proclamation reducing the area of two national monuments in Utah caught many Mainers’ attention.
In this neck of the woods, we have Acadia, a national park that began life as a national monument not all that long after the Antiquities Act giving the president this authority was signed into law.
We also have the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, designated last year amid similarly heated debate. Interior Secretary Zinke’s recommendation to the president for the marine monument is to allow commercial fishing activity to resume there.
There are some important parallels between the Utah monuments and the marine monument off our coast. The debates over appropriate uses of, and rules for the territory, have the same shape—a monument designation brings broad protections, or broad restrictions, depending on whom you ask, but it also involves fewer people in important decisions.
In both cases, federal regulators have a range of management tools at their disposal. Switching from one tool to another is unlikely to cause the sky to fall.
These monuments all cover territory that already is under federal management. That is, the move in Utah did not transfer any lands from the federal government to state or private ownership. It lifted one layer of protection (or restriction), the one that came with monument status.
Much of the affected area is already protected under federal land designations such as wilderness study areas. Natural and cultural resources in the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante areas are still subject to the Federal Land Policy Management Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, to name a few.
Similarly, the marine monument is in federal waters. If fishing is allowed again, it will be subject to control by the New England Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries. Both of these groups have representatives from the fishing industry and Maine state government at the table.
The NEFMC has undertaken habitat management plans to protect rare coral beds in the monument area, one of the stated goals for establishing the monument in the first place. Zinke’s recommendations do not call for lifting the ban on oil, gas and mineral extraction from the area.
If mining practices in Utah are harmful, concerned citizens should document the harm and organize to change the rules. If the use of certain fishing gear, or too much fishing effort, in Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is harmful to corals or other organisms, let the members of the NEFMC know. A national monument designation is likely not the be-all and end-all.