US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that President Trump make significant changes to 10 national monuments, including proposals to allow commercial fishing in a protected expanse off Cape Cod and to open woodlands in Northern Maine to “active timber management.”
The recommendations add a surprising uncertainty to two vast areas set aside last year by the Obama administration, which established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, about 130 miles off Cape Cod, and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, some 87,000 acres in Maine’s North Woods.
Earlier this year, Zinke launched a review of 27 protected areas, including the two in New England, and sent his recommendations to Trump last month. The White House had refused to release the recommendations, but on Monday they were leaked to the media.
White House officials declined to comment on Zinke’s memo or when Trump would act on the recommendations.
“The Trump administration does not comment on leaked documents, especially internal drafts, which are still under review by the president and relevant agencies,” wrote Kelly Love, a spokeswoman for the White House, in an e-mail.
Zinke’s recommendations included more radical changes in western monuments, including shrinking the boundaries of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.
Environmental advocates denounced such plans.
“Secretary Zinke’s recommendations represent the largest attack on protected public lands in our nation’s history,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. “Closing down parts of America’s parks and monuments would open up huge swaths of protected lands to drilling and mining speculators and other special interests. President Trump should throw these recommendations in the trash.”
Zinke’s recommendations, first reported by the Washington Post, could have significant consequences for New England. Allowing commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which encompasses nearly 5,000 square miles, would undermine the main goals of the controversial preserve, environmental advocates said.
“This administration continues to demonstrate that the rule of law, public will, and environmental protection are not top priorities,” said Peter Shelley, senior counsel at the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston.
Widespread fishing in the area would “gut the scientific value of the monument,” he said.
“Commercial fishing disrupts critical marine life feeding patterns, removes forage fish like squid that feeds whales and other marine life in that area, destroys fragile corals that can be thousands of years old, and inadvertently catches and kills marine mammals and other innocent marine life,” said Shelley. He noted that recreational fishing is allowed.
Opponents of the marine monument, which includes most of the commercial fishing industry, hailed the recommendations. They have argued the area was protected with insufficient input from their industry.
“The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument was designated after behind-closed-door campaigns led by large, multinational, environmental lobbying firms, despite vocal opposition from local and federal officials, fisheries managers, and the fishing industry,” said Eric Reid, general manager of Seafreeze Shoreside in Narragansett, R.I. “But the reported recommendations from the Interior Department make us hopeful that we can recover the areas we have fished sustainably for decades.”
Grant Moore, president of the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, added: “There seems to be a huge misconception that there are limitless areas where displaced fishermen can go. Basically, with the stroke of a pen, President Obama put fishermen and their crews out of work and harmed all the shore-side businesses that support the fishing industry.”
Environmental advocates were less certain about the potential consequences of the recommendations for the Katahdin monument. Zinke urged Trump to amend its designation “to promote a healthy forest through active timber management.”
He also suggested Trump revise the area’s management plan to “prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades, repair, and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.”
Officials who oversee Katahdin for the National Park Service declined to comment, while representatives of Maine Governor Paul LePage, a vocal opponent of the monument, did not respond to requests for comment.
Environmental advocates in Maine were unsure how to respond.
“The implications of the report . . . remain unclear,” said Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Without more details, we cannot yet judge whether these recommendations are acceptable.”
It remains unclear what Zinke meant by “active timber management,” she said.
“If the secretary envisions commercial timber harvesting, then it would be a clear violation of the laws that determine how the National Park Service manages lands,” she said. “Commercial logging could cause substantial harm to the natural resources protected by the monument and to the economic and recreation benefits already emerging.”
Managing timber to restore a healthy forest and build trails, however, “could be consistent with the monument’s purpose,” she said.
Pohlmann noted that there is currently no management plan for the monument and that it would take three years to create one.
Officials at the Department of Interior declined to speak on the record about Zinke’s recommendations. But a department official, speaking on background, dismissed some of the criticism of Zinke’s memo as “grossly politically misleading” and “ridiculous.”
Asked to respond to criticism that allowing commercial fishing in the marine monument off Cape Cod would make the preserve pointless, the official said: “The department disagrees with that.
“The fishing practices used in the area wouldn’t do harm to the area,” the official said.
Asked about timber management at Katahdin, the official said that Zinke spent “extensive amount of time with supporters and opponents of the monument” and his review was “thorough and deliberative.”
Zinke said Trump had the authority to make these changes under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which both Republican and Democratic presidents have used to declare more than 150 monuments in 31 states, protecting those lands and waters from commercial development and other activities.
Environmental advocates have argued that the law doesn’t grant presidents the power to abolish a monument.
“Gutting protections and changing boundaries for national monuments would be a sad chapter in our country’s history,” said Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. “If this administration goes through with these plans and allows mining, oil and gas development, and timber harvesting, they will be sacrificing our culture, our history, and our outdoor heritage for potential short-term gains.”