Bush’s ocean protection decision

President Bush has a chance to create huge marine reserves, which the first lady supports but Vice President Cheney opposes.

Laura Bush does not have a halo, and, as far as we know, Dick Cheney doesn’t wield a pitchfork.

Yet it’s hard not to see the two as the angel and the demon on President Bush’s shoulders as he ponders whether to protect vast stretches of pristine ocean habitat in the remote Pacific.

For months, Bush has been considering the creation of two sweeping marine reserves, a move that would make him the most ocean-friendly president in history.

Bush had already achieved distinction when, in 2006, he approved a 140,000-square-mile marine national monument in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

But the new plan would dwarf that, potentially protecting up to 900,000 square miles around the Mariana Islands and around a series of tiny, U.S.-controlled territories stretching from the Line Islands to the Rose Atoll in American Samoa.

Usually it takes congressional approval to designate national parks and monuments, but a controversial law passed in 1906 called the Antiquities Act allows presidents to declare unlimited expanses of federal land off-limits to hunting, fishing, oil exploration, mining or other extractive uses.

President Clinton designated more national monuments using this act than any other president, but Bush could potentially protect quite a bit more territory.

According to the Washington Post, the first lady supports the sanctuaries and has requested briefings on them from scientists and White House aides, while Vice President Cheney opposes them.

Backing up Cheney are the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, a federal agency that regulates fishing from Hawaii to Guam, and many political leaders in the Marianas, who complain that the designation would harm their economy.

Yet the majority of residents of the Marianas seem to disagree with their leaders; polls and petitions of the islands’ 10,000 registered voters show strong support. Most likely, that’s because they recognize that the rich marine life surrounding the islands is more valuable as a tourist attraction than as a fishing spot.

Moreover, the fishery council has proved itself a poor steward of fish stocks, and seems unclear on the concept that sanctuaries don’t just improve fish populations within the protected area, but in surrounding areas as well.

Bush should designate these monuments, and impose the maximum allowable protections, because it’s the right thing to do — enhancing biodiversity and helping to ward off the threats of overfishing and pollution to our oceans.

But if that’s not enough to convince him, he should consider that he doesn’t have to sleep next to Cheney for the rest of his life.

Source: LA Times