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Let's get that marine sanctuary 

For some time now, the Sierra Club, in concert with environmental groups in SLO and Santa Barbara counties, has been supporting the Chumash in advocating for the designation of a Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary off the Central Coast.

Per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), "The primary objective of a sanctuary is to protect its natural and cultural features while allowing people to use and enjoy the ocean in a sustainable way. Sanctuary waters provide a secure habitat for species close to extinction and protect historically significant shipwrecks and artifacts. Sanctuaries serve as natural classrooms and laboratories for schoolchildren and researchers alike to promote understanding and stewardship of our oceans. They often are cherished recreational spots for sport fishing and diving and support commercial industries such as tourism, fishing, and kelp harvesting." (For details, go to sanctuaries.noaa.gov/about/faqs.)

Next October will mark the fifth anniversary of the date when NOAA placed the nomination into its inventory, declaring that it fully met the qualifications for designation as part of the national marine sanctuary system. The formal process for review and update of 5-year-old nominations was published in the Federal Register last November.

If you're wondering why a nomination that meets all the criteria for designation has been sitting in inventory for five years, you're not alone.

Last December, Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to let him know she was "deeply concerned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's recent study on ocean acidification impacts on the California coastline," urging the secretary "to take immediate action to combat rising carbon levels in our oceans, including by accelerating the designation of the proposed 'Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.'"

She concluded by asking the secretary to "provide a response detailing why [NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries] is not actively evaluating this important proposal."

I can hazard a guess. When the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary was first proposed five years ago, it was met with a dizzying array of objections and wild surmise, often tipping over into slapstick and eagerly embraced by county Supervisors John Peschong, Debbie Arnold, and Lynn Compton, who went along with notions like:

• Marine sanctuary designation would mean a "loss of local control" (something no coastal city or county has ever had over the state and federally regulated waters off its shores).

• It would regulate or ban fishing (confusing national sanctuaries with the marine reserves that are part of the state of California's Marine Protected Areas).

• It would simply duplicate existing regulations (it wouldn't).

• It would regulate discharges of water from agricultural operations (it wouldn't).

• It's part of "Agenda 30" (which, one may assume, is even worse than longtime conspiracy favorite Agenda 21).

• And the half-racist, half-delirious claim that a sanctuary would mean the Chumash could block everyone from going fishing or swimming, and "we'll have to pay the Chumash to do desal."

Meanwhile, on the factual side of the ledger, there are multiple peer-reviewed socioeconomic studies on the impact of national marine sanctuaries on local coastal economies.

The video record of a 2016 meeting with marine sanctuary superintendents at the Morro Bay Vets Hall, a nearly three-hour smackdown of all the anti-marine sanctuary disinformation that whipped through the county five years ago, is still available online. (Go to YouTube and type "NOAA-hosted Marine Sanctuary Information Session.")

The facts on the history and operations of national marine sanctuaries also remain readily available on NOAA's website.

And the SLO County general plan still declares that "significant marine resources will be protected," and that this goal is to be implemented via a policy of making "every effort to secure permanent protection and management of the county's ecologically and economically significant marine resources using the National Marine Sanctuary, National Estuary, or other programs and legislation as vehicles for protection and management." It would be a good thing if someday the majority of our county supervisors could support our general plan.

Now is the time to write to Congressman Salud Carbajal to thank him for stepping up to support designation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary when our county supervisors fell down. Urge him to do everything he can to accelerate the designation of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, and ask the same question as Sen. Feinstein: Why isn't the Department of Commerce actively evaluating this important proposal? Δ

Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter to the editor and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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