CNMI BRISTLES OVER "CRITICAL HABITAT" PROPOSAL

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 9) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service critical habitat proposal on Rota would cover nearly 30 percent of the island—or 2,462 hectares—and would adversely affect its economic status, according to acting Marianas Public Lands Commissioner Frank Eliptico.

Fish and Wildlife wants the land designated for the protection of the Mariana crow, an endangered bird species. Rota and the CNMI government are opposed to this proposal.

In a letter to Dr. Paul Henson, field supervisor of the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife office, Eliptico said part of the requested property covers vital thoroughfares such as homesteads, airport expansion, compulsory landfill and other economically necessary projects.

"We hope the Service will realize that basing the designation of 29 percent of the entire island of Rota on a draft, unfinished economic analysis and recovery plan seems overly presumptuous," Eliptico said.

"Secondly, we believe the economic analysis severely underestimates the economic and social impact the critical habitat designation will create," he added.

In the CNMI, Eliptico said, public land belongs collectively to the people of the Northern Marianas descent—not to the general public. "The Service choosing not to recognize this, has mistakenly concluded that the designation will not be a sizable and considerable taking on the NMI descent people whose collective properties our office has been entrusted to manage," he said.

Additionally, Eliptico questioned how the Service would treat private landowners whose properties may be affected by the clearing of the proposed critical habitat.

"Will the service consider this situation a Section 9 violation of the Endangered Species Act? Based on prior actions of the Service in the CNMI with respect to endangered species issues, we believe so," Eliptico said.

The Service was also urged to reopen the comment period for the proposed designation in consideration of Rota’s status as a national disaster area due to Supertyphoon Pongsona.

"The timing of supertyphoon severely cut short the comment period for the people of Rota whose lives will be most affected by the proposed critical habitat designation. Needless to say, they have been devoting all their energies and resources into getting their lives back to normal," Eliptico said.

"In keeping with the Service’s commitment and intention to ensure that "any final action resulting from the proposal be as accurate and effective as possible," the comment period should be reopened in order to afford the people of Rota the opportunity to voice their concerns on the proposed rule," he added.

But if the project would still push through, Eliptico asked the Service to exclude certain properties from it. These include 555,782 square meters for the airport; sites for specific agricultural and village homesteads; the Mochong latte village historical site; and all private properties.

Former Rep. Karl T. Reyes, in an earlier interview, said: "Use for the birds? That is property needed by the people. Do birds have to come first? Is the federal government saying that the sanctuary for birds is more important than human beings?"

January 9, 2003

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com 

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Add new comment