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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

DLNR Concerned With Military Plans For CNMI’s Pagan
Impacts to environment, local community detailed in document

By Junhan B. Todeno

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 9, 2013) – In the Northern Mariana Islands, Pagan is frequently used for recreation and has strong potential for economic development, according to the Department of Lands and Natural Resources (DLNR).

"Pagan also has cultural and historic sites that have not been disturbed by human activities," DLNR told the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in the Pacific.

The document was also submitted by DLNR officials led by Secretary Arnold I. Palacios to the CNMI Joint Military Training Environmental Impact Statement project manager, and it discusses the potential impact of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) proposed action to improve existing and develop new live-fire military training areas on Tinian and Pagan.

DLNR officials said their concerns arise from "our professional experience and opinion, and from our interpretation of the thoughts and feelings or our constituents."

These concerns are shared by Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) acting Director Manuel M. Pangelinan, DFW supervisory fisheries biologist Todd Miller and supervisory wildlife biologist Russell Benford.

According to DLNR, Pagan’s "near-shore waters are biological reservoirs for marine and terrestrial plants and animals, including locally and federally protected species and species that are candidates for protection."

While Pagan has less coral cover than Tinian, "it contains a high abundance of large reef fish and invertebrates."

The military’s proposed 12-mile closure will prevent all fishing activities around Pagan when in effect, and it will cause economic loss to commercial fishermen, DLNR said.

DOD activities, it added, could significantly affect how often and to what extent citizens of the CNMI can utilize their natural resources.

"Activities such as the establishment of exclusion zones; the use of live ordnance; noise pollution; light pollution; dust; construction; the use of rotary and fixed wing aircraft in low altitude maneuvers; increased use of the harbor and surrounding waters; and amphibious landings could have a profound direct effect on the people who travel to Pagan for the enjoyment of the resources there," DLNR said.

It also raised specific concerns on the impact of increased military activity on Pagan’s urban infrastructure such as unpaved roads, the airstrip, and the harbor; cultural heritage sites on the east side of the island; the restricted access and the degradation of public beaches and hot springs that have the potential to be eco-tourism attractions; restricted access to valued hunting areas and fishing areas in the waters surrounding the island; restricted access to commonwealth public lands; restricted access to important habitat areas and the ability to conduct management-related activities such as surveying, monitoring, and regulating harvests.

The corals and fish, those proposed or petitioned for listing as endangered or threatened, will be at significant risk from high-impact military activities, DLNR said.

Because vegetation on Pagan will be affected by earthmoving and construction activities, some types of plants like the native cycads in ravines on the southern part of the island, and the only known population of slender bottle-daisies in the CNMI on the southern peaks of the island, will be affected, DLNR added.

All other plants and the native forest, native grassland, coastal shrubs, coastal spiderling vines and invasive insects will be threatened, DLNR said.

According to the department, terrestrial invertebrates, reptiles, marine mammals and birds could also be affected, including the Mariana fruit bat, the only native terrestrial mammal that occurs on Pagan.

"We are also concerned about the remote possibility of introducing wildlife diseases that affect birds such as avian influenza, West Nile Disease, and Exotic Newcastle Disease and non-human mammals such as rabies and white-nose syndrome," DLNR officials said.

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