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Conservation group recommends strengthening declaration

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 8, 2009)—Gov. Benigno R. Fitial has told Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that his administration does not support any changes to the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument proclamation at this time, as recommended by Friends of the Monument.

Ignacio Cabrera, chairman of the Friends of the Monument, identified areas of concern in which the monument declaration could be improved, including weak restrictions to protect the area.

Cabrera, in an April 17 letter, sought Delegate Kilili C. Sablan's help in initiating legislative action to amend the declaration.

On May 1, Fitial told Sablan not to support any changes to the national monument proclamation by legislation at this time.

On the same day, the governor wrote to the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, telling him that he "strongly opposes" the Friend's recommended reversal of the three provisions of the proclamation.

"We believe that any such action is wholly inappropriate until the new administration has an opportunity to staff the responsible departments and to become familiar with its responsibilities under the proclamation creating the monument," Fitial said in his letter to Salazar.

The governor wants to meet with Salazar in Washington, D.C., where the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Ocean and Wildlife will hold a hearing on the implementation of the federalization law on May 19. Fitial leaves for Washington, D.C. on May 17.

On Jan. 6, 2009, then-President George W. Bush declared 190,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean as marine national monuments, including the 95,000-square mile Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument is an area around the three northernmost islands in the CNMI-Uracas or Farallon de Pajaros, Maug and Asuncion.

The Friends of the Monument was the main proponent of the marine monument proposal.

Fitial, in his letter to Salazar, said he strongly opposes the Friend's recommended reversal on three principal concerns:

The governor told Sablan and Salazar about the importance of the concessions that the CNMI government was able to negotiate with the Council on Environmental Quality, which he said the Friends of the Monument opposed and now seeks to reverse by legislation.

Fitial said based in his consultations with other elected officials in the CNMI and interested members of the community, these concessions have widespread support within the Commonwealth.

"I hope you will agree that we should not take any action no along the lines urged by Mr. Cabrera," Fitial told Sablan.

He also told Sablan that they have the common responsibility to deal fairly and openly with the Department of the Interior.

"I certainly do not want Secretary Salazar to believe that we are conspiring behind his back to deprive his department of responsibilities under the proclamation before he even has the opportunity to staff his department and begin to develop a program to implement the proclamation," Fitial told Sablan.

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