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Too little, too late, thanks anyway

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
June 23, 2006


Let's just say my world was rocked last week with news of George W. Bush designating more than 140,000 sq miles (362,000 sq km) of reefs, atolls and shallow seas of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument. Under the 1906 National Antiquities Act, George W. Bush has not only created a marine sanctuary, he has given it the highest protected status possible under US law.

After 5+ years of Federal environmental policy best described as reckless endangerment bordering on ecocide, for Bush Inc. to make such a magnanimous gesture is as revolutionary as the act it self. New restrictions will phase out all fishing within five years and require visitors to obtain permits to snorkel or dive in an area the size of California.

This is huge deal.

Monument status will protect one of the last intact marine ecosystems in the world, one that is home to sharks, whales, extensive coral reefs, threatened sea turtles, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. It will be free from commercial extractive activities, allowing the entire marine ecosystem to continue to thrive for future generations.

Finishing what President Theodore Roosevelt started when he designated most of the island chain a national wildlife refuge in 1909, and advanced by President Bill Clinton with two, second term executive orders protecting marine resources around the refuge, and ordering federal marine agencies to prepare for a marine sanctuary designation for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Borrowing from the playbook of Theodore Roosevelt, it would seem the Bush Administration he is trying to attach his legacy to one began a century ago during Roosevelt's second term. I would say creating the world's largest marine sanctuary is a good start.

Thank you Mr. Bush. For the more than 7,000 species that inhabit the remote and uninhabited islands and surrounding seas, thank you. For protecting important breeding grounds for birds, sea turtles, and the only remaining population of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Thank you.

So what gives?

Taught to look gift horses in the mouth, environmentalists are best schooled to question the motives of government. Here the motives are so clear they are almost pure. All that matters is that George W. Bush did the right thing at the right time. Is it enough to counter a political career marked by environmental degradation and mismanagement? Probably not, but I would be remiss if I failed to give praise where it was due.

All Californians should thank George W. Bush for making the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands marine sanctuary a National monument, and afterwards ask the President to throw a little ecological love our way by declaring the California coast a protected marine sanctuary, with bans on kelp harvesting, commercial fishing, and oil drilling from San Diego to Crescent City.

As Californians, all citizens, young and old, should consider the price of not protecting marine ecosystems for future posterity. Homeland security has more to do with conserving natural resources than war mongering and immigrant bashing. Perhaps Arnold Swarzenegger can get George to throw us a biocentric bone or two in the name of his reelection in 2006. If it could work for Hawaiian Governor Linda Lingle it should work for the gubernator…right?

To protect the coast it is time Californians developed an understanding of coastal biology and the role kelp forests play in the shoreline retention and sand distribution. Protecting ocean habitats is vital to the well being of the California as a nation and a state.

Other places where Mr. Bush can try to counter past environmental injustices include mining policy in the Mohave desert, forest policy in the Sierras, and energy policy in the Middle East that does not include asking future Californians to pay for war over a polluting energy source.

Federal illusions aside, Californians owe it to themselves and the other species that share our unprotected habitats, to extract as much environmental favor from the government as humanly possible. Which is a lot considering the things humans are capable of once we set our busy little minds in motion.

Kudos still, to George W. Bush, for joining the Roosevelt Republicans late in the game, he did the Rough Rider proud. I hope this is only the beginning of a series of uncharacteristically biocentric acts on the part of the President as he strives for a legacy beyond bloody war, wire-tapping and a Hurricane of incompetence.

If it is a kindler gentler Bush riding out the sunset of his presidency, granting environmental blessings to provide cover to previous dark doings, I say bring it on.

Swami's National Marine Sanctuary and Surf Monument has a very nice ring to it.

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