Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Guest Blog: "Sham" Congressional field hearing on Biscayne National Park is par for the environmental course ...

Gimleteye comment: Sad to say, when members of Congress hold "field hearings" to gauge public responses to policy proposals, they have already made up their minds.

My first experience of Congressional field hearings on the environment, however, was different. The year was 1989. The place was Key Colony Beach in the Florida Keys. The occasion was a Congressional field hearing for the expansion of protections for the Keys national wildlife refuges through a new national marine sanctuary program, then in its planning stages. The hearing was managed by a handsome, rugged young Congressman (Democratic) from northern California: George Miller.

After a forty year career in Congress, Miller retired in 2010. He was a giant for progressive causes. At that field hearing in 1989, he not only had a command of fact but he paid particularly close attention to the testimony of citizens. I talked with him after and thanked him for being unfazed by rancor being spread, at the hearing, by the Florida Keys branch of the right-wing Sagebrush Rebellion; birthed during the Reagan presidency by well-funded Republican conservatives.

Miller knew what he was up against, and for me, it was the first and last Congressional hearing I attended in Florida where the public voice appeared to count. The Huffington Post published an interview with Miller on his retirement: "I was told a long time ago by my former chief of staff, John Lawrence, that in politics, nothing is permanent. There are no permanent victories and when you win something tonight, you have to defend it tomorrow morning," Miller said.

Such is the case, especially, with the environment. Three decades on, it requires a caveat: while there are no permanent victories, the reality of climate change is that there are permanent losses. In Florida, generations of environmental warriors have staked their faith on the belief in the regenerative capacity of nature. In other words, given adequate breathing space from commercial exploitation and greed, even the Everglades and its component ecosystems can recover.

That is why each skirmish -- whether for Biscayne National Park or the marine stadium in the City of Miami or the shallow water reefs affected by the Port of Miami, or the Lake Belt in West Miami Dade and encroachment by wealthy rock miners, or the fight for the Urban Development Boundary -- is important.

But even as community activists struggle to protect baselines and to use governmental processes to improve the chances for the environment, for parks and public participation, well-funded adversaries who dominate the political spectrum are hard at work to justify their own imperatives as "enough", as "fact-based", as "highest and best use". Over three decades, it hasn't been a pretty exercise in democracy.

Congressional field hearings on the environment are a tried and true recipe for frustrating and alienating voters. Guest Blogger Mark Bonaparte's observations fit this conclusion with respect to three GOP members of Congress -- Ros Lehtinen, Curbelo, and Diaz-Balart -- , otherwise noted in the companion cartoon: why vote? Because it is the only way, short of revolution, to make democracy work.

From: Mark Bonaparte []
Sent: Tuesday, August 04, 2015 11:27 PM
Subject: A skewed Joint Oversight Field Hearing Regarding Biscayne National Park


Yesterday, my wife Dorothy A Rider and I attended the House Natural Resources Committee and Small Business Committee Joint Field Hearing on recreational and commercial fishing access in Biscayne National Park. (Please find Rep. CurBelo's follow up release below).

The National Park Service's recently decided to create a "no-fishing" marine reserve for the Biscayne National Park in Miami, Florida because of collapsing fish populations and the degraded reef ecology. For years fishing, heavy boat traffic, anchors and traps lines and have crushed corals and raked the seagrass. The park adopted a new Fisheries Management Plan that would reduce and phase out Biscayne National Park's current levels of commercial fishing. Then corral reefs and fish populations can recover.
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U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo called for this "fact finding" meeting but from the type of questions, tone, slant and demeanor of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen it soon became obvious to me that Reps. Ros-Lehtinen already had her mind made up. Then, at the end of the meeting it was revealed that she had already proposed legislation! ....... Then why the sham of pretending to have an open meeting? She and the purpose of the meeting were disingenuous!

Reps. Curbelo is more concerned with commercial fishing and the impact to the areas small business, than the health of Biscayne National Park. So I bear witness. I have been a certified SCUBA diver since 1967. Prior to that I was a snorkler since I was 3 years old. I have personally seen the degradation of un-managed reefs and un-regulated commercial fishing in the Caribbean and South Florida. I have also seen damaged reef systems and fish populations restored when the natural ecology is restored by the implementation of preserves and parks.

If Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo intentions are to have fishing, boating and tourism, then the park needs to be healthy and right now Biscayne National Park needs CPR, not political favoritism. Don't try to re-invent the wheel. The science is there from all over the world. Well managed ecologically focused parks are GREAT for people, business and the environment.

Thank you,
Mark Bonaparte

CC: Sierra Club, South Florida Wildlands Association, Tropical Audubon Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Miami Herald

MEDIA CONTACT: Brittany Martinez at (202) 225-2778 or

Rep. Curbelo Participates in Joint Oversight Field Hearing Regarding Biscayne National Park

Homestead, FL—Yesterday, Florida Reps. Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart, and Jolly were joined by Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia and Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah, who all participated in a House Natural Resources Committee and Small Business Committee Joint Field Hearing on recreational and commercial fishing access in Biscayne National Park. Rep. Curbelo (FL-26) issued the following statement after the field hearing.

“It was enlightening to hear testimony from witnesses during yesterday’s Joint Hearing. While I share the National Park Service’s commitment to protecting Biscayne National Park’s coral reefs and fishery resources, I continue to be concerned that the final General Management Plan unnecessarily restricts the public’s access to the park and negatively affects fishermen and other small businesses. Also, further studies must be done to learn if the Park’s removal of artificial reefs within the proposed Marine Reserve has had a negative impact on the health and vibrancy of fish populations. We must find common ground to protect this South Florida heritage site that works for fishermen, divers, and conservationists.”

For a great overview of this subject see:*1140417h-2fe2629e


meja makan jati said...
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Anonymous said...

Sometimes the benefit of businesses and the environment clash. This issue is a good example of this: should some be restricted from using part of the park to take marine life which may ultimately lead to the resource’s demise or should we curtail some of the use to preserve the reefs for posterity? Seems simple enough. Let’s curtail some of the activity to protect the resource!

My wife and I have been fishing and diving in this area since the 1950’s. Thankfully, Lloyd Miller, Juanita Greene and others helped save this treasure from becoming another Miami Beach and petrochemical facility by lobbying to make it a park. We have enjoyed many great fishing and diving trips to these reefs over the years. This is truly a magnificent place to be protected and preserved. Sadly, over time we have seen the results of over fishing by recreational and commercial interests. Gone are thousands of queen conch that were everywhere. Gone are most of the schools of barracuda, parrot fish, grouper, snapper, hogfish and other fish that used to be so plentiful. We saw a ban on nearshore gill netting improve conditions, however, the great increase in population and boaters along with new technology take a toll. We still see commercial fishing on these reefs in the form of ballyhoo netting, lobster trapping and professional spearfishing divers who can remove most of the legal sized fish from a patch reef in no time. Enforcement is a concern. Budget cuts prevent local and federal agencies from doing their job. Let’s keep that in mind when funding legislation comes up.

People, including our local legislators,Balart/Ros Lehtinen/Curbelo, who oppose the Marine Reserve Zone may not be aware of how overfishing has devastated these reefs. Common sense and past studies would make it seem that imposing a no fishing zone and allowing fish populations to increase would benefit us all in the future. After all, contrary to what many think, it is not all about short term gain and how much money (or how many fish I can catch now) that should be the greatest concern, but “what can we do now to protect our reefs for the future”?

Anonymous said...

This hearing is not about fishing! It's just part of the new Republican Party Playbook to bash the federal governments and exploit the National Park and federal lands resources by private for profit enterprises to the detriment of the American public and future generations. Turning over public resources and lands for commercial development, oil and gas explorations, overfishing. Same thing happening in Florida with our public parks. These legislators Are ignoring sound science in the interest of pandering to the far right.

Anonymous said...

The plan sets asside 5 or 6% of the park in one square area east of Elliot Key as a marine reserve. The continued commercial and sports-fishing opportunities remain for the other 94% of the park.

Biscayne is the only national park that allows the taking of wildlife from the park. Can you imagine hunting of wolves or bighorn sheep in Yellowstone? The reserves established in the Keys sanctuary are bigger, yet a sanctuary is a lower status area than a National Park. The modest proposal by the Park is in the best interest of the Park (their mission is to protect it forever after all) and for ALL of the users.

The push-back on this is purely political.