Vieques National Wildlife Refuge under Attack in Congress
When most people think of Puerto Rico, they think of vacation, sunny beaches and tropical drinks. The photos alone are absolutely breathtaking: rugged cliffs rise up from azure Caribbean waters to meet the coastline. What they may not realize is that Puerto Rico also hosts one of America’s most popular wildlife refuges. Now, the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is under attack in Congress.
The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is not just an American treasure, it’s also a true safe haven for wildlife. Along with spectacular animals like Antillean manatees, fisherman bats and hundreds of birds from the little Blue Heron to the great egret, this refuge and its surrounding waters are home to sixteen threatened or endangered plants and animals. Vieques Island also has the highest percentage of green sea turtle nests in the Archipelago of Puerto Rico. Green sea turtles are listed under the Endangered Species Act and are protected in the U.S. and around the world.Despite the biological importance and beauty of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, it is under attack in the U.S. Congress. This week, Representative Robert Bishop (R-UT) will hold a vote in the House Natural Resources Committee that he chairs on the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), a debt relief bill. Inserted in the bill is a provision to strip national protection for over 3,100 acres of pristine wildlife refuge lands and gives the land away.
What does a public lands giveaway have to do with providing debt relief for Puerto Rico? Your guess is as good as mine. This provision does more to serve private developers than the Puerto Rican people. As Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell said in response to the Vieques giveaway, “Giving up public lands or natural areas to development is not synonymous with economic growth and development.”Let’s look at the numbers. More than 300,000 people visit Vieques National Wildlife Refuge every year to enjoy pristine beaches and incredible wildlife. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, for every $1 appropriated to run the refuge, $18 is generated in economic activity to the local community supporting 300 jobs. Puerto Ricans and all Americans can be assured that the natural resources and the economic benefits provided by Veiques National Wildlife Refuge are protected. If the land is given away, there is no such guarantee.
Representative Bishop is merely using this bill as another way to attack our public lands. He has attempted to sell off our national forests and he has sympathized with the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by armed militants. He wants to do away with the refuge protections and throw open the gates for developers to bulldoze, mine, and log their way through public lands across America.
Don’t let Congress give part of this refuge away to developers! This and ALL national wildlife refuges need to be protected – not bulldozed.
PROMESA’s refuge giveaway is just the first step for Representative Bishop in reaching his goal of turning America’s public lands into private or state development zones. His proposed bill is an egregious attack on our public lands, and it’s a horrible precedent we must stop!
Take a stand for America’s wildlife and wild places! Tell Congress: Vieques National Wildlife Refuge must be protected not bulldozed.