EDITORIAL:

Trump’s scorched-earth handling of environment extends to oceans too

President Donald Trump’s cruelty to the environment and wildlife clearly is never far from the top of his mind. He proved it again this month when, with the coronavirus pandemic heating up again and Black Lives Matter protests, he took a special trip to Maine.

There, he issued a proclamation allowing commercial fishing to resume in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a pristine swath of the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Cod.

Trump’s timing — during National Ocean Month — was no doubt chosen for full sadistic effect as he erased protections established under President Barack Obama.

The nearly 5,000-square-mile monument, the only one of its kind in the Atlantic, is home to an amazing array of life — endangered whales, 1,000-year-old deep-sea coral beds, a huge number of fish and seabird species, rare marine life found nowhere else in the world, and more.

“It was like swimming through Dr. Seuss’ garden,” a research scientist told the Rhode Island-based environmental watchdog news organization ecoRI News. “From the very first research trip out to the canyons and later to the seamounts, it was obvious these were special places.”

But Trump, in his scorched-earth campaign to erase Obama’s legacy and ruin the environment, decided to let management of the fisheries in this special place go back to a regional fishery management council that contains members of the commercial fishing industry.

Trump made it sound as if Obama had stolen the area from fishing interests, but that wasn’t the case. Commercial crab and lobster fishers had been allowed to maintain operations there, and recreational fishing was permitted as well. In fact, the government had moved the boundary of the monument to provide access to some of the more fertile fishing areas.

And while the industry lobbied to reopen the area, critics say that closing it off had almost no impact on fishing quotas and productivity of the regional industry.

Environmental organizations immediately filed suit, to their credit. Here’s hoping they succeed in regaining protection for the monument.

For Nevadans, the issue may seem far away and not a cause for particular alarm at a time of crisis.

But amid increasingly loud alarms about the disastrous effects of global warming, pollution and overfishing on the oceans, protecting the health and biodiversity of the seas is critical for everyone on the planet. One study last year in the journal Science showed that fish populations declined as much as 35% in some areas between 1930 and 2010, while the global population exploded.

Now seafood supplies in some areas are on the verge of collapsing altogether, which needless to say would have calamitous results on the worldwide food chain. And since fish is the primary source of protein for a significant portion of the world, especially the Third World, a collapse would inevitably lead to massive global unrest. Carefully conserving the oceans, nurturing sea life and ensuring that it survives to continue feeding the world is an utmost national security interest.

Against that backdrop, protections for areas like the monument should be expanded, not removed. Keep in mind that while 5,000 square miles might seem like a big area, it actually makes up just 0.012% of the Atlantic Ocean, which spans more than 41 million square miles.

There are four such monuments in the Pacific, which are all but certain to also be targeted by Trump. In fact, the administration indicated last week that it was looking at feeding two of those areas — both established by President George W. Bush — to the wolves.

If there’s a glimmer of good news in terms of the Atlantic monument, it’s that Obama’s protections already survived a court challenge filed by the fishing industry. The courts ruled that Obama had authority to create the monument.

Now, attorneys for the environmentalists who are opposing Trump’s reversal argue that the Antiquities Act, under which presidents are authorized to protect monuments, gives Congress only the power to undo or alter those actions.

We can hope for another favorable ruling. But in November, we can take the issue into our own hands by voting this destructive president out of office.