Governor witnesses signing of Antiquities Act executive order

GOVERNOR Ralph D.L.G. Torres joined members of the U.S. Congress, Vice President Mike Pence and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in witnessing President Donald Trump sign the Antiquities Act executive order in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

“It was an honor to be invited to join President Trump, Vice President Pence and Secretary Zinke to the signing of the Antiquities Act executive order,” Torres said in a statement.

“The people of the CNMI were promised great things from the creation of the Marianas Trench Monument and none of those benefits have ever materialized. I support the president’s decision to review these declarations to ensure they uphold their intent and provide benefits to the people who must live with the long term effects of their presence.”

In a separate statement Rep. Angel A. Demapan lauded the executive order which calls for the review of monument designations under the Antiquities Act, saying it is a move in the right direction for the territories and their respective local communities. The review will include marine national monuments and fishing restrictions in the Pacific.

“I agree that there is a need to review monument designations, especially in the CNMI and the rest of the territories,” said Demapan, vice chairman of the House Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs. “These designations oftentimes appear to be a ‘cover’ to take control of local lands and marine resources, regardless of whether there is resistance from the local community.”

He added, “Most, if not all, national marine monument designations were pushed by special interest organizations, not by the people of the land. And so in Pacific Island cultures, where the land and sea are our source of sustainability, these monument designations essentially prevent our people from accessing and fishing in areas that have long been utilized.”

Demapan said he is “very much pleased to see that President Trump listened to our concerns, especially after Governor Torres sent a joint letter with the governors of Guam and American Samoa, which pointed to fishing restrictions in waters surrounding the territories. These restrictions created barriers and challenges for local subsistence fishermen in the CNMI, Guam and American Samoa.”

Aside from removing fishing restrictions and giving local fishermen access to such areas, Demapan also noted the failed promises from the previous White House administrations and monument advocates.

“They basically made promises to our people that having a designated marine national monument in the Marianas would generate additional revenues and would be co-managed both federally and locally,” said Demapan. “However, here we are, years later, and we have realized zero revenue from the designation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.”

Demapan said he’s “glad to see that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has stated his commitment to work with local governments in reviewing these designations to ensure that local communities are given the opportunity to be a part of the process and remain in control of what was rightfully ours to begin with. This is a much better approach than when the monument designations were implemented unilaterally in previous White House administrations.”

In her statement, U.S. Congresswoman Aumua Amata of American Samoa said:

“I want to thank the president for his actions…. While well intended when first signed into law, the Antiquities Act had become a tool for previous administrations to control nonfederal lands and marine resources without input from the local populations.

Flanked by members of Congress, including U.S. Congresswoman Aumua Amata of American Samoa, CNMI Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres, Vice President Mike Pence and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, President Trump signs the executive order to review the Antiquities Act. Photo courtesy of the Office of U.S. Congresswoman Aumua Amata

“These monument designations that have come at the behest of special interest groups, have often been extremely harmful to those who have traditionally utilized them, such as in American Samoa.

“Among the monuments being considered are marine monuments in the Pacific, including the monument around American Samoa.

“If legislative action is necessary, I will take whatever action necessary to return our waters which have sustained us long before our relationship with America.

“Our people have been cut off from access to regions of the Pacific that we have fished for over a millennium.

“I look forward to the corresponding actions that will come as a result of this review, and getting our fishermen back on the waters that have sustained us long before any relationship with the United States.”

She said the review “will specifically examine the designations made over the past 20 years, and will seek to rectify the lack of input from local leadership that has plagued the Act for far too long. Further actions are expected as a result of the review.”

In a statement, the U.S. Department of the Interior said the executive order directs Secretary Zinke to consult local governments and tribes in order to review national monuments created by the Antiquities Act since Jan. 1, 1996, that are greater than 100,000 acres in footprint and report back to the president on suggested legislative or executive action, if applicable, within 120 days.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the president to declare federal lands of historic or scientific value to be national monuments by designating the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

“Interior is the steward of America’s public lands. Part of being a good steward is being a good neighbor and being a good listener. In the Trump administration, we listen and then we act,” said Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Historically, the Act calls for the president to designate the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected,” Zinke said. “Despite this clear directive ‘smallest area’ has become the exception and not the rule. Under the president’s leadership, I will work with local, state and tribal governments to review monument designations made the past 20 years and make sure they work for the local communities.”

He added, “The view from the Potomac is a lot different than the view from the Yellowstone or the Colorado. Too many times, you have people in D.C. who have never been to an area, never grazed the land, fished the river, driven the trails, or looked locals in the eye, who are making the decisions and they have zero accountability to the impacted communities. I’m interested in listening to those folks. That’s what my team and I will be doing in the next few months.”

According to Interior, the executive order does not strip any monument of a designation, and does not loosen any environmental or conservation regulations on any land or marine areas.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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