Secretary Zinke: Please Leave Our National Monuments Alone

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Today, on behalf of The Trust for Public Land and its many volunteers and supporters, I am registering our concern with President Trump’s executive order to review certain monument designations.

Our public lands and waters help define who we are as a nation by telling the story of our historical, cultural, and natural heritage. This attempt to roll back protections for national monuments is unprecedented and terribly misguided. Secretary Zinke, we strongly urge you to reject efforts to eliminate or shrink our national monuments.

The Trust for Public Land has worked over many years to protect important conservation lands at several national monuments currently under review and we have worked to ensure public land protection at other recently created monuments including California Coastal, Stonewall, Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers and Pullman. Our experience was always positive, with strong community support and engagement. In California, for example, the impetus for the Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow national monuments came from Mojave Desert residents and business leaders, who organized for years in support of them.

The Antiquities Act has been used well by Presidents throughout our history for important and lasting public land protection. This current review is clearly aimed at undermining presidential authority under the Act. Should this result lead to reversals of current protection, those steps will have a lasting negative impact and threaten many protected areas for generations to come.

Regarding the expedited review of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, we question the need for this condensed timeline but urge you, Secretary Zinke, to retain the monument’s current status. That area’s priceless historic, cultural and natural wonders are exactly the places and values which should be permanently protected. Monument status for Bears Ears protects 100,000 archaeological and cultural sites as well as stunning mesas, canyons and arches and the incredible outdoor recreation, hunting, fishing and general solitude and peace they contain ― treasures which are irreplaceable. It is clear the area has deep and important meaning to several Native American tribes, given their involvement in the long-standing protection effort and recent vocal opposition to rolling back protections. The boundaries of the monument clearly honor the voices of five sovereign tribal nations who joined together to seek protection of their shared ancestral lands and traditions.

We strongly believe rolling back the Bears Ears protections would threaten all our monument areas by setting a terrible precedent. Once that door is open, where might it stop? Such actions would discourage business investment and community growth around national monuments while also sending the signal that our history and natural wonders are negotiable. This already seems to be the case in Maine where a review of the Katahdin Woods and Waters national monument has caused uncertainty about the area’s economic future, halting positive signs of economic growth following the August 2016 designation.

National monuments are tremendous drivers of the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy. Businesses in gateway communities rely on the permanency of these protections when making decisions about local investments. Visitation has doubled at Organ Mountains National Monument since its designation. At the nearby Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, the Bureau of Land Management saw a 40% increase in visitors within a year after that land was designated a monument. A report by the Green Taos (N.M.) Chamber of Commerce said that within just a year after that designation, the town’s lodging revenue increased 21% in the second half of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. This experience has been repeated over and over at other sites.

Our system of national parks, many of which began as monuments, has been called “America’s best idea” and they are enormously popular with the American people. Our public lands provide thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact. They ensure permanent access to America’s unique cultural and natural history. The judicious use of the Antiquities Act, by presidents of both parties, has been a key tool in protecting that legacy of special places. There should be no rollbacks of protections, at Bears Ears or other monuments.

And we urge everyone to make their views known here.

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