Legislation that could remove federal protection from Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is on the move again, heading for a mark-up by the House Natural Resources Committee tomorrow. The legislation filed by Massachusetts Congressman Bill Keating, H.R.1157, was filed on behalf of the Town of Chatham, and is intended to settle a dispute over the management of nearly 4,000 acres of submerged lands and waters within Monomoy.
The Refuge is comprised of a series of dynamic barrier beaches and islands that are constantly reshaped by wind and waves. Federal and local officials have traditionally worked together to preserve this area, but last year the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a proposed management plan that implied they had authority to manage thousands of acres of water, and the fisheries within them, beyond the low tide mark into Nantucket Sound.
The Service cited a map from the Refuge’s establishment in 1944 that they said included this additional area as within the Refuge boundary. But state and local officials argued that the federally-managed portion was only intended to include any land area that might build up above the mean low tide mark (through sand accretion, for instance), not the land underneath or waters beyond it.
H.R.1157 makes the statement that the USFWS never had authority over the submerged lands in question. If passed, the bill would allow state and town to officials to continue managing the area.
As we’ve shared before, we are concerned that this bill could set a dangerous precedent for stripping federal protections for public lands and waters across the country, at a time when we are already seeing an assault on our national monuments, like the recent reductions in size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. This kind of legislation could create a dangerous opportunity for unfriendly amendments or future legislation by others to weaken federal control over protected land.
Instead of passing H.R.1157, we encourage all stakeholders to continue working towards a collaborative solution for managing this area that both serves local needs and preserves it as part of the Refuge System.
Mass Audubon is signing onto a letter to our congressional delegation urging them to reject the bill, and you can help too. Contact your congressperson and urge them not to pass H.R.1157. Let them know we can’t afford to remove federal protections from our public lands, and that we need to preserve the boundaries, protection, and integrity of our national monuments.