MONOMOY – THE WESTERN FRONT
IT IS TIME for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Chatham Selectmen to come to an understanding on management of the western boundary of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, and keep an environmentally hostile Congress out of the discussion.
Of the 7,921-acre Refuge, almost half is located within the disputed western boundary – a topic well covered by this newspaper. This area should remain intact as part of the Refuge. The Town of Chatham and Commonwealth should continue to sustainably manage the traditional harvest of softshell clams and quahogs by local shellfishermen within the area, and the boundary should not change.
As many Cape Codders know, Monomoy is comprised of a series of dynamic barrier beaches and islands, dripping off the elbow of this peninsula, and constantly reshaped by the winds, waves, tides and currents of the Atlantic to the east and Nantucket Sound to the west.
Established in 1944 to protect migratory birds, Monomoy provides a haven for numerous species including the federally-listed Roseate Tern, Red Knot, and Piping Plover as well as Oystercatchers, Eider ducks, and many others. It also provides an extensive haul-out for grey seals.
In addition, Monomoy is among the largest spawning sites for horseshoe crabs in eastern Massachusetts. Horseshoe crab eggs play an integral role in the Monomoy ecosystem as an important food source for marine and avian species. Horseshoe crabs were severely overfished in the 1980’s and 1990’s and pressure continues for their use as bait and for biomedical research. In an effort to increase their population, the federal government prohibited the take of horseshoe crabs at Monomoy in 2000 – that should not change.
Monomoy’s new master plan correctly includes compatibility determinations on whether various recreational and commercial activities can occur in the refuge. Altering the western boundary would expose vulnerable wildlife, and the fragile habitats upon which they depend, to new pressures such as horseshoe crab harvesting – an activity incompatible with the refuge’s mission, biological integrity and environmental well-being.
Mass Audubon is among the oldest and largest conservation organizations in the northeast. On the Cape, Mass Audubon manages 2,000 acres of land, engages 3,000 members and is devoted to protecting the nature of this place for people and wildlife. Along with national conservation organizations, Mass Audubon is concerned about Congressional interference in the local debate over Monomoy.
More worrisome than any overharvesting threat is the national precedent and threat to public lands across America that Congressional intervention would pose. While not an issue here at home or in the East in general, many will be familiar with the recent armed standoffs that threatened national wildlife refuges and other public lands out West. Militants there represent the most extreme in a crusade that, while not always violent, support a radical and extreme agenda to turn over control of federal public resources to the states, where they would quickly be auctioned off to the highest bidders. This agenda is being advanced by conservative state legislatures and until now, has been stalled only because of public outrage.
Now, the US House of Representatives has a new subcommittee, established by Republican leaders of the Natural Resources Committee, to study turning over national parks and wildlife refuges to states. Legislation recently proposed by Bay State Democratic Congressman William Keating of Bourne would alter Monomoy’s western boundary and is exactly the kind of bill this congressional committee would find attractive – one which turns over federal conservation lands to states and local government.
There is an unintended consequence to having federal lawmakers resolve the Monomoy dispute – Congressional champions of the radical public lands takeover movement would hijack the bill, embracing an allegedly non-partisan “National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act” that relinquishes federal conservation lands to local government. It would be especially enticing if it came from a state like Massachusetts.
The goal now is to work locally to protect the integrity of the Refuge while maintaining and respecting the long-term town-federal partnership which has worked for seventy-two years.
Jack Clarke is director of public policy and government relations at Mass Audubon.