National Monuments are All-American

National Monuments are All-American
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This summer, many of us will take the opportunity to explore the outdoors and our extraordinary public lands and waters, including more than a hundred national monuments established throughout the country that preserve our history, culture and rich natural heritage.

But enjoy them now, because some of our most expansive monuments may not survive the Trump administration intact.

In April, President Trump ordered a politically motivated “review” of any national monument designated since 1996. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke quickly complied, targeting 27 of the largest and most important monuments for wildlife for potential downsizing or reduced protections. Zinke focused first on Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. This remarkable landscape preserves more than 100,000 Native American cultural and archaeological sites—and provides vital habitat for bighorn sheep, Mexican spotted owls, peregrine falcons, the dwarf shrew, 15 species of bats and ancient Engelmann spruce trees.

A broad coalition of Tribes, businesses, scientists, conservation organizations and citizens worked for decades to protect the priceless public lands around Bears Ears. Their work paid off when President Obama designated the area a national monument last December. And now, after a mere 45 days of “review,” Zinke has released a preliminary report that proposes to shrink Bears Ears. This is reprehensible, especially from the chief conservation officer in the federal government.

The administration’s brazen attempt to resize, reduce protections, or outright eliminate national monuments is a sellout of our public lands and waters to special interests. And judging by his preliminary recommendation, Zinke has more bad proposals in store for another 26 of our national monuments.

Every one of the monuments under review is critical to conservation. Carrizo Plain National Monument contains some of the last remaining grasslands in California. Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon supports 135 species of butterflies. Half of all the remaining giant sequoias in the world – some of which have been here for thousands of years – live in the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

Five of the monuments targeted by the Secretary are at sea, including Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, which contains the deepest point on Earth at nearly seven miles below sea level, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, which supports distinctive and fragile coral reef communities and endangered sea turtle species that are in decline almost everywhere else.

Americans have the Antiquities Act to thank for these cherished designations, farsighted legislation signed by President Teddy Roosevelt more than a century ago meant to safeguard our nation’s cultural, historical and biological treasures. Sixteen presidents—eight Republicans and eight Democrats—have wielded their authority under the act to establish 157 national monuments over the past 111 years. Congress subsequently designated dozens of these monuments as national parks, including Grand Canyon, Olympic, Zion, Acadia, Death Valley, Saguaro, Grand Teton and Joshua Tree national parks.

Some of today’s national monuments could be tomorrow’s national parks. And what American would want to reduce protections or the size of our national parks?

In fact, no president has ever revoked a predecessor’s national monument, and for the last 40 years there has been broad bipartisan consensus that only Congress—not the president—can shrink or eliminate a designation. But the Trump administration seems intent on flouting our laws and traditions, especially if there is an opportunity to convert public resources into private gain.

Not only is this review unprecedented, it is also contrary to overwhelming public support for conserving our wildlife and their habitat. More than a million people have already spoken in defense of Bears Ears and the other national monuments under threat. Americans want these special places to remain protected.

President Trump can build on this legacy of honoring our natural heritage, history and culture. Rather than threatening to undo our national monuments, the president should consult Secretary Zinke and consider where he might designate his own monuments and contribute to this presidential bequest to the country.

Short of that, the only acceptable outcome of President Trump’s review is the continued preservation and stewardship of our national monuments—every single one of them. No shrinking, no stripping away protections and no opening up of these lands to resource extraction. We urge everyone to write to Secretary Zinke by July 9 and tell him to protect our wildlife and national monuments.

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