New Senate Bill Brings Bundy-Style Land Seizure To The Sea

Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, left, discusses his industry’s water issues with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, in Apalachicola, Florida, on the other side of the state from Biscayne National Park. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PHIL SEARS
Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, left, discusses his industry’s water issues with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, in Apalachicola, Florida, on the other side of the state from Biscayne National Park. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PHIL SEARS

Advocates for the seizure and sale of U.S. parks and public lands are training their sights on marine coastal areas with a new bill that would give state governors unprecedented power over America’s coastal national parks.

The bill, introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), would give governors veto power over fishery management decisions in national parks and, in particular, would enable the governor’s political appointees to undo planned no-fishing zones that would help restore the health of reefs, fish, and other marine species.

Critics argue that the legislation, S. 2807, would undermine established, science-based wildlife management plans, degrade the conservation protections afforded through America’s National Park System, and is part of a broader anti-park policy agenda that some members of Congress have been seeking to advance.

This legislation fits largely within the realm of Bundy-style seizing and selling of public land. The National Park System makes wildlife and land management decisions based on conservation science, towards the goal of preserving the natural resources, systems, and processes of the park system for the enjoyment of all Americans. States often prioritize development and extraction over conservation, which can compromise the ecological integrity of publicly-owned lands like national parks and can have serious implications for wildlife.

As The Bundy Brothers Occupy A Federal Building, Here Are The GOP Candidates Who Supported Their…On Saturday, a large group of armed militia members took over a federal building in rural Oregon, claiming the property…thinkprogress.orgThe bill is similar to land-based bills introduced by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), and Sen. Marco Rubio, which would give control of energy development on most public lands to the states, though the legislation would exempt national parks. A common argument among land seizure proponents is that seizures would not apply to national parks. This bill, S. 2807, clearly shows that national parks are at risk from the land seizure movement as well.

One target of Rubio and Cassidy’s bill is Biscayne National Park, the largest marine national park in America, located just south of Miami. Biscayne National Park is home to over 600 species of both freshwater and saltwater fish, one of the largest coral reefs in the world, mangrove forests, and nearly 10,000 years of human history. The bill would undo a planned no-fishing zone in the park that came from a recently-approved National Park Service management plan to protect coral growth, as well as snapper, grouper, and other declining fish populations.

In this Tuesday, July 22, 2014 photo, biologist Vanessa McDonough dives on a reef to record the number of fish spotted in Biscayne National Park, Fla. CREDIT: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
In this Tuesday, July 22, 2014 photo, biologist Vanessa McDonough dives on a reef to record the number of fish spotted in Biscayne National Park, Fla. CREDIT: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

The planned no-fishing zone is “one of the most effective and scientifically sound ways to protect the incredible living coral reef ecosystem that has degraded over the past two decades,” said Caroline McLaughlin, the National Park Conservation Association’s Biscayne program manager, to Keys Info Net. “If [S. 2807] is passed, it could severely undermine the authority of the National Parks in 88 coastal parks across the country.”

Though Sen. Cassidy argues that states “know [their] waters better than the federal government does,” the bill may be a solution in search of a problem. Data from other federally protected waters off Florida’s coast indicate that marine reserves like the one targeted for local takeover in Biscayne National Park are highly effective at both restoring reef ecosystems within the reserve’s boundaries, and improving fishing outside of it once the populations of reproducing fish recover and their young “spill over” into adjoining waters.

For example, fishermen in the Key West area enjoyed an increase in the value of their total annual catch of 40 percent over 10 years — from $40 million in 2001 to $56 million in 2011 — after the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary implemented what was initially a controversial no-fishing zone aimed at restoring depleted populations of grouper and snapper species. Between 2005 and 2012, scientists also observed an increase in coral cover within the reserve compared with areas outside, and an increase in the size and abundance of the grouper and snapper that officials had targeted for recovery.

Jenny Rowland is the Research and Advocacy Associate for the Public Lands Project at Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter @jennyhrowland. Shiva Polefka is a Policy Analyst for the Ocean Policy program at Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter @sjp078.