Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Fishy Impression of "Cultural Resources"

It would of be unreasonable to expect fish or wildlife to know much about “cultural resources,” or to express themselves in good English.  But is it too much to expect that their human managers in government have such knowledge, or be adept at such expression?  

Apparently it is.

Case in point: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s notice of August 20, 2012 in the Federal Register announcing its final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact on a special purpose permit application for shallow-set longline fishing (77 FR 50153).  This notice says – rather in passing, that:

No cultural resources as defined under the National Historic Preservation Act are significantly affected… because the fishery operates in the 200 mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and on the high seas, far from historic sites.

Do the human, English-language-using employees of the FWS actually think that “cultural resources” are defined in the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)?  They are not; aside from a passing reference to “cultural resource managers,” the term is never used in the statute.  Or does the FWS humans’ use of “under” mean they think the term is defined in some NHPA-spawned regulation?  If so, they don’t specify what the regulation is.  I am not aware of any regulation of government-wide application that defines the term.

To judge from their statement, however, the FWS humans believe that only “historic sites” can be “cultural resources,” and they somehow ground this belief on their (mis)understanding of NHPA.

I suspect that their belief would come as a surprise to, for instance, some fishermen and their families, who just might regard themselves as having culture, who might regard their traditional lifeways and beliefs to be that culture’s intangible resources, who might think their boats, tackle, and on-shore facilities to be tangible resources employed in that culture’s support, and who might even regard fish as resources important to their culture's survival.  It might come as a surprise, too, to archaeologists and others who think there might be significant shipwrecks beneath the “high seas” and within the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.  

I have no idea whether the activities permitted by FWS in this case have any potential to affect the tangible and intangible cultural resources of fishermen or others, or to impact shipwrecks on the bottom of the sea.  But in the English language I was taught to use, distance from land does not guarantee even the absence of “historic sites” (a term also not defined in NHPA) like shipwrecks.  Still less does it guarantee a lack of “cultural resources.”

Is there a need for remedial English instruction for U.S. government employees?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with you. Using the same logic as USFW, there is absolutely no way a Shell-Fish operation/Farm, for example, that meets Critera A and D could ever be considered a Historic Property let alone be a cultural resources. What are they thinking???