Arroyo Grande Coast News Pismo Beach

Feds Taking Aim at Marine Sanctuaries

If supporters of the Carrizo Plains National Monument thought they might be able to breathe a sigh of relief after making their voices heard last month, Violet Cavanaugh, vice-chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribe, has something to say.

“The entire Antiquities Act, which governs monuments and preservation, is what’s really under attack,” she told a SLO City News reporter. “It’s so much more than Carrizo; they [the Trump Administration] want to log the Sequoias, to frack public lands, to open the shoreline to drilling. Right now, we’re fighting back to hold onto the protections we already have.”

Cavanaugh, and both former and current local Congressional Representatives were featured speakers at a July 1 rally in SLO’s Mission Plaza, with attendees sending postcards and other “comments” to the Secretary of the Interior in Washington, D.C.

That was all timed to have public input recorded before a review being carried out on National Monuments, their acreage, and natural resources under a Presidential Executive Order.

Flying under the radar in these parts was Executive Order No. 13795, “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was scheduled to close its public comment period on a Department of Commerce-led, “review of designations and expansions of national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments” at the end of July.

In part, Cavanaugh speculated, because NOAA is without a full time leader nearly 8 months into a new administration, and because of lingering proposed budget cuts, the agency has extended the public comment period, buying staffers more time to conduct scientific review, as well as giving the public a further chance to comment.

“California has four sanctuaries on the Coast,” Margaret “P.J.” Webb, a public interest attorney in Cambria, and the region’s federal appointee to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, said. “The Order 13795 review raised a huge red flag for us in any kind of review in terms of offshore drilling. That is of great concern to to anyone who supports sanctuaries to continue to prohibit that.”

There are 11 marine sanctuaries and monuments nationwide, including our Monterey Bay NMS to the North and Channel Islands NMS off the Santa Barbara Coast. The Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, the largest in the U.S., stretches along 276 miles from Cambria to Marin County.

“The major issue with the review order is that it looks only at the monetary value of what you can mine or drill,” said Webb, noting that NOAA’s scientific experts are being disallowed from including indexes of biodiversity, food, or other more intangible benefits derived from the sanctuaries’ presence.

“Last night we had eight humpback whales spotted just off the Cambria Coast, …no, that value isn’t being considered,” she said, referring as well to the monetary value that tourism brings to the region for such sightings in addition to the animals’ more majestic qualities.

There’s another local side to the marine sanctuary discussion as well. Until recently, Cavanaugh and Dist. 3 Supervisor Adam Hill were hopeful that a proposed marine sanctuary to cover the Central Coast between the two existing sanctaries could become reality.

Last February, both spoke at another Mission Plaza rally hoping to induce the Supervisors to issue a unanimous letter to support a proposed Chumash Heritage Marine Sanctuary. The motion failed, 3-2, in a straight partisan split.

“Seeing as how we had a failed vote to support the sanctuary, I think Bruce [Gibson] and I will be writing our own, individual letters this time,” Hill said. “We know where a [public hearing] goes now. Both for and against turnout for public comment but it gets caught up in an anti-regulatory zeal.”

Cavanaugh added, “We’re not counting on the new sanctuary at this point. We’re just trying to sit through five years of NOAA budget cuts. Only about 2 percent of our entire [U.S.] land base is protected right now and the Antiquities Act is all that’s keeping it safe.”

To submit comments before the Aug. 15 deadline go online to: www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NOS-2017-0066.

 

– By Camas Frank

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