Public Comment on National Monuments Review

A recent executive order signed by President Trump orders Secretary Zinke to review a significant series of National Monuments declared by prior presidents over the last 20 years.Public comments are now being accepted at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOI-2017-0002-0001

I have decided to make my comments public here, and I encourage all US Citizens to consider submitting their own comments (please try to make your own arguments, in your own, personal words) in support of our National Monuments–land currently being protected as the birthright of not only ourselves as US Citizens but for all future generations to come after us. 

Note: As the online form only accepts 5000 characters (it does allow attachments, but I didn’t want to bother with that), I ended up submitting a version about half as long as this. I’m posting a much fuller comment here, providing more information and more arguments than I actually submitted… oh well.

As a United States Citizen, born and raised within this beautiful country, I have a clear interest in the use and protection of our federally managed public lands. These are lands owned by every citizen of this great country, and it is entirely accurate to call these lands our birthright. It is the duty of the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies to manage these public lands for the betterment of the country, all US Citizens as collective owners of this land, and the future owners yet to come. These policies clearly affect each and every one of us.

I would make an argument that nothing is truly more American than our public lands. From Native Americans who called these lands home and valued special places as holy, to the early European settlers braving the unknown to find new homes. From early explorers like Lewis and Clark to the expeditions along the Oregon and California Trails and travelers along Old Route 66. From the homesteaders of the 1800s to Theodore Roosevelt himself. Today, hunters, fishermen, outdoor recreationists, and many more Americans depend on our public lands for improved health and way of life.

In reviewing these beautiful National Monuments, it is important to review the history of the Antiquities Act of 1906, and its clear intention of use. With Theodore Roosevelt signing the act, we ought to look to the examples of intention set forth by this great leader himself under Congress’ approval.

While many often cite the smaller, more obvious examples such as Devils Tower (9/24/1906) and Montezuma Castle (12/08/1906), perhaps the most truly relevant to today’s National Monument Review is the Grand Canyon. On January 11, 1908, Theodore Roosevelt declared over 800,000 acres of land as a new national monument, declaring, “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you”.

With the declaration of the National Monument on the Grand Canyon, private development and strong multiple use of the land continued until the Congress of 1919 re-designated the monument into the National Park we know and love today. This was the ultimate approval of Roosevelt’s use of the Antiquities Act to declare such a large amount of area. Roosevelt’s use was not only accepted as appropriate use of the act, but in fact, too limited for that land. The change to National Park status was made only to block private development and more strongly protect the land than the National Monument status provided.

This executive order suggests that National Monument designations over 100,000 acres abuses the intent of the Antiquities Act of 1906. However, Theodore Roosevelt and the Congresses of the time closest to its creation give us a clear precedent that a National Monument designation greater than 800,000 acres is, in fact, entirely within the intent of the law. Many of the 27 monuments under this review process today are a fraction of that size and yet arguably have even more scientific, cultural, and historical significance than the Grand Canyon, making them even more eligible for the protections of a National Monument than those that set the precedent we ought to look to for modern guidance.

As time has gone on from the initial passing of the Antiquities Act, the importance of the protections afforded to National Monuments designated by presidents has only become more important.

These days, I find myself spending more time on our public lands all across this country than I do on any private lands. Hiking, backpacking, camping, and photography are my preferred means of exploring and experiencing these lands. Everywhere I go, it seems more and more Americans are getting out and taking in these lands. I take a strong personal pride and joy out of exploring all over as much of our public lands as I possibly can within my own lifetime, and I seem to see more and more people out doing the same every year.

Technology has accelerated faster than anyone could have anticipated 100 years ago. We now live in the Information Age and more people have more access at affordable, accessible means of travel than any other time in the history of the world. Social media exposes the masses to awareness of all of these areas, and provides insight on how to get into their depths, on such a level that has become entirely unavoidable.

We can see evidence of this as the outdoor recreation industry continues to grow stronger and stronger. We know 7.6 million jobs are created directly from this industry, with $887 billion of consumer spending within this one industry alone. The federal, state, and local tax revenue from this is staggering. Yet it absolutely relies on our public lands being available and protected. I personally have several friends who are directly affected by this, as their jobs are within this industry, causing them to rely on its success for their own success in life.

Of course, all of this has created stresses on communities surrounding our public lands, including increasing difficulties from infrastructure inefficiencies to vandalism in and all around our public lands. While concerns about these matters are not unfounded at all, national monument designations can help us address these concerns. Neglecting or even removing these designations does not help at all, as more people are discovering all of these national secrets faster than anyone seems able to keep up with, thanks to the technological advancements of the modern world we live in today. Anything less than National Monument status will be increasingly insufficient at protecting these areas for future generations.

I am clearly in favor of maintaining all of these 27 National Monuments specifically mentioned as under review, and I truly hope to see all of them that I have not already.

I have specifically spent time in Bears Ears, Cascade-Siskiyou, Craters of the Moon, Giant Sequoia, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hanford Reach, Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, San Gabriel Mountains, and Sonoran Desert National Monuments. I strongly value my time in all of these and can’t wait to spend more time in them, and also more time exploring the rest. That said, I would like to take the rest of this comment to address only a couple specifics.

Bears Ears National Monument may be the single most important National Monument designation within my own lifetime.

I grew up always aware of the Native American blood running through my own veins, and as the Native tribes around Bears Ears called for the protection of this land they hold so dear, I was filled with pride for all indigenous people within our great nation. However, the process was ever increasingly frustrating, as local politicians fought against the very people they claim to represent, until President Obama finally stepped in and designated a subset of the request as a national monument after many failed attempts from politicians seeking even lower protections.

The US has a long, painful history of interactions with the indigenous tribes who call this beautiful country home. Bears Ears National Monument is an absolutely important monument in honoring the great peoples of this nation after so many years of horrible treatment. The designation is something to be celebrated and treasured by all native peoples. Meanwhile, this very discussion of reducing or even removing this designation has once again brought up that painful past, reminding many of events such as Mount Rushmore, where the US government broke a promise to the native people and carved white people’s faces into a holy mountain. It is time we honor our indigenous peoples and seek to unify the wonderfully mixed heritage of our great country, not further stoke the flames of racial tensions over these needless disputes.

When I traveled through the area myself, I found great value in all of the land I was able to travel through. The entire landscape was absolutely captivating and obviously beautiful. As I always make a point to read and learn more, I quickly discovered the intense cultural and scientific value highlighted beyond just the reaches of what President Obama did designate but especially all of the land within, and under management by the BLM and USFS for protected multiple use, I am confident the protections as a national monument are absolutely preferred. The land will remain for future generations to benefit in every way off of this land, from the pure enjoyment of taking in its beauty and cultural artifacts to appropriate livestock grazing still allowed within applicable law. I fear that, without these protections and given the ever increasing awareness and accessibility of these lands, this monument can only be threatened by removing the protections so many of us depend on in order to enjoy the lands within and share them with future generations to come.

Concerning Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments, I had the personal joy of signing a petition in person, asking President Obama to make these designations after Congress failed to even have a vote that the locals requested for many years. Both of these monuments protect invaluable cultural and scientific resources, and both provide opportunities for the surrounding communities that are absolutely unrivaled. The wildlife corridors they protect provide sustainable protections valued by hunters and wildlife seekers, and the cultural significance of important paths traveled by native tribes protected within are vastly important to the descendants thereof. Both contain vast areas of absolute beauty and scientific value worth specifically protecting for all future generations.

These designations placed under the management of the BLM and USFS do not have to negate multiple use in any way whatsoever, but the clearly best use of them is one in which all future generations are able to enjoy them the same or even better than I have been able to in my own adventures. Nothing we do except protecting and encouraging their natural beauty, as National Monument designations through the Antiquities Act provides, can possibly do any better for these amazing lands that are at the true heart of our beautiful country.

3 thoughts on “Public Comment on National Monuments Review”

Leave a Reply