Below is my comment my comment on Interior Secretary Zinke’s review of 27 national monuments that was initiated by an executive order signed by President Trump in April. Monday, July 10th is the deadline for comments that can be submitted here.
For more information on national monuments and what’s at stake in this review, see my article from Yes! Magazine.
According to the Interior Department’s recent budget justification statement for cutting the National Wildlife Refuge Fund, “evidence shows that refuges often generate tax revenue for communities in excess of what was lost by increasing property values and creating tourism opportunities for the American public to connect with nature.” This is true of many public lands, including wilderness areas, parks, and monuments.
While opponents of such monuments as Bears Ears, Upper Missouri River Breaks, Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks have argued that these monuments harm local communities, the above statement serves as an implicit, if not explicit, acknowledgement that such is not the case. In most cases, communities such as Taos, Las Cruces and Fort Benton have benefited greatly from their respective monument designations. And while it is too soon to tell, communities such as Bluff, Blanding and Monticello are likely to see a bump in economic activity following the designation of Bears Ears National Monument.
In addition to the economic arguments, there are environmental, historical and cultural justifications for these designations that both local and national audiences have embraced. Rio Grande del Norte offers some of the best cold-water trout fishing in northern New Mexico, while Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks ensures that future generations will be able to lose themselves in one of the most stunning, unique landscapes in the country. Upper Missouri River Breaks gives visitors an opportunity to lay their head where Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery did the same more than 200 years ago, while Bears Ears allows visitors the distinct opportunity to learn about cultures that survived and prospered in North America nearly 1000 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.
I have spent varying amounts of time in all four monuments and each visit has confirmed that these places deserve the protections they currently enjoy. Rescinding or significantly altering these monuments would not only be wrong, but it would directly contradict the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, one of our most admired presidents who Secretary Zinke has said he seeks to emulate.
Today, no one regrets the designations of sites such as Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Bandelier, Chaco Canyon, Lassen Volcanic or Olympic National Monuments. They are universally recognized for not only their geographic and cultural wonder, but also the economic opportunities they have brought their communities. If we choose to reject the short-sighted nature of this review, history will thank us.
Please maintain monument status for these four monuments as well as the 23 other monuments currently under review.
-Michael J. Dax