Trump Administration is Threatening Our National Monuments

Take action to protect our National Monuments!

The Trump administration is attacking our national monuments and seems hell bent on destroying some of these special places in the name of energy independence.

“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” —Theodore Roosevelt

The United States federal government has a duty to protect and preserve our national monuments for the benefit of all Americans, present, and future. However, President Trump recently issued an Executive Order aimed at opening up some of our national monuments for oil and gas exploration and mining, thus demonstrating that he is unequal to the task of safeguarding America’s heritage.

So what is at stake?

What is a National Monument?

The term national monument seems confusing to me. When I think about the word monument, it brings to mind structures and statues. Although some do involve structures and statues, national monuments also encompass historic, scientific, archaeological, commemorative, and cultural objects and values of sites on federal land. National monuments can also be small and large parcels of land with unique and special features and even water bodies.

An important distinction is that the Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the President of the United States the authority to designate a national monument by issuing a presidential proclamation without requiring an act of Congress. The purpose of giving the president this authority is to enable him or her to protect and preserve landmarks, structures, objects, artifacts, and land that are important to America’s heritage and culture, especially those in danger of befalling harm, theft, or destruction.

The president does not unilaterally decide which locations or objects to designate as national monuments. The process involves gathering input from the public, businesses, community organizations, nonprofits, and local, state, and federal government agencies. The justification for establishing a national monument is outlined in the presidential proclamation designating it.

Historically, presidents have enlarged and occasionally diminished some national monuments designated by their predecessors. No president has ever overturned a national monument designation made by a predecessor. In some cases, national monuments have become national parks or national historic places via acts of Congress.

To date, there have been 157 national monuments designated by 16 presidents, beginning with President Theodore Roosevelt, a staunch conservationist who spearheaded the Antiquities Act and signed it into law on June 8, 1906.

Why are National Monuments Important?

National monuments are sites that have been set aside to protect and preserve our heritage, history, and culture. They are important places for learning, exploration, and fun. Let’s look a few national monuments and imagine the United States without them.

Below are some examples that will give you an idea our national monument diversity.

  • Statue of Liberty (NY)
  • Fort Sumter (SC)
  • Grand Canyon (AZ)
  • Craters of the Moon (ID)
  • George Washington Birthplace (VA)
  • Mt. St. Helens (WA)
  • Rainbow Bridge (UT)
  • Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad (MD)
  • Devils Tower (WY)
  • Muir Woods (CA)

The above national monuments are not currently on the chopping block, so let’s look at the ones that are.

National Monuments that are Under Review

President Trump’s executive order directs the Department of the Interior to review all national monuments designated since January 1, 1996, by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama and determine if they should be reduced or even abolished to enhance American energy independence.

The Department of the Interior has a list on their website, which includes 22 terrestrial and 5 marine national monuments: Arizona (4), California (6), Colorado (1), Idaho (1), Nevada (2), New Mexico (2), Maine (1), Montana (1), Oregon (1), Utah (2), Washington (1), Atlantic Ocean (1) and Pacific Ocean (4).

“It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Six of the national monuments are in my home state of California and one is almost in my backyard.

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Interestingly, the threatened Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County, CA, near where I live, has two huge solar farms as neighbors that generate enough electricity to power 260,000 homes (the total population of the County is 279,000).

People come from all over to visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument to view spectacular wildflowers in the spring, explore its unique geology, enjoy native flora and fauna, study ecosystems, and learn about the cultural heritage of the area.

The San Andreas Fault runs through the Carrizo Plain so environmental degradation aside, it does not seem too smart to add more fossil fuel extraction sites in and around the region. Building more roads and infrastructure in this rural area would cause a massive disruption to the people who live, farm, and ranch in the area and to the wildlife, which inhabits it.

The Carrizo Plain area is already contributing to national energy independence and the national monument is preserving the largest native grassland in California as well as several endangered species of animals and plants and cultural artifacts.

As far as I am concerned, to change the status or boundaries of the Carrizo Plain National Monument to allow energy speculation does not make sense from a business perspective and would be an environmental and social travesty.

Call to Action

I hope that like me you feel national monuments are an important part of America’s heritage and worth protecting.

Here are some ways you can help.

Public Comment

Make a public comment at Enter docket DOI-2017-0002 into the search window on the site and click the “Comment Now!” button on the right. Alternately, mail your comment to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW., Washington, DC 20240.

Important Dates: Written comments relating to the Bears Ears National Monument must be submitted before May 26, 2017, and written comments relating to all other National Monuments must be submitted before July 10, 2017.

Contact Elected Officials

Call, email, or write your elected officials and ask them to stand up for our national monuments.

Letter to the Editor

Write a letter to the editor or a viewpoint piece about why national monuments are important to you or tell a personal story about a specific national monument that is under review.

Social Media

Post national monument photos and comments on social media encouraging people to make a public comment.

Talk to People

Talk to your family, friends, and coworkers about this issue and ask them to get involved, too.

Thank you for taking action to protect our national monuments.

“Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Featured Image at Top: Wildflowers Bloom at Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County, CA in April 2017 – Photo by Bob Wick, BLM

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A Sand County Almanac – Book Review

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” —Aldo Leopold

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold refers to the trees, plants, and wildlife living near him as his neighbors, which of course they were. I was captivated from the second paragraph of the foreword.

“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”

Almost 70 years have passed since Aldo Leopold penned the above words, yet they are just as pertinent today as when he wrote them on March 4, 1948.

I was pleased to discover a 1970 extended version of the book while browsing in a second-hand bookstore on a trip to Seattle, WA. The book I bought and read is entitled A Sand County Almanac: with Essays on Conservation from Round River.

A Sand County Almanac with Essays on Conservation from Round River Book CoverBook Review

A Sand County Almanac: with Essays on Conservation from Round River is a collection of writings by Aldo Leopold about life on his farm, wilderness and wildlife, and conservation. The essays and journal notes are grouped into four parts.

Part I: A Sand County Almanac

The setting for this part of the book is a derelict farm with sandy soils situated in Sauk County, Wisconsin that Leopold and his family purchased and rehabilitated over a period of years.

Leopold recounts what he and his wildlife neighbors were doing each month during the year. For instance, in the following excerpt from “May,” Leopold describes his visitors just in from Argentina, the upland plovers.

“There he sits: his whole being says it’s your next move to absent yourself from his domain. The county records may allege that you own this pasture, but the plover airily rules out such trivial legalities. He has just flown 4000 miles to reassert the title he got from the Indians, and until the young plovers are a-wing, this pasture is his, and none may trespass without his protest.”

Part II: The Quality of the Landscape

This section contains stories about the places Leopold lived and visited with a focus on conservation.

During a fishing trip in Mexico, Leopold marveled at one of the best examples of healthy land he had ever seen, the Rio Gavilan. In “Song of the Gavilan,” he bemoans the degraded watersheds in the United States.

“The life of every river sings its own song, but in most the song is long since marred by the discords of misuse. Overgrazing first mars the plants and then the soil. Rifle, trap, and poison next deplete the larger birds and mammals; then comes a park or forest with roads and tourists. Parks are made to bring music to the many, but by the time many are attuned to hear it there is little left but noise.”

Part III: A Taste for Country

A selection of Leopold’s essays and journal entries from his hunting, fishing, and exploring trips and his musings about conservation make up this part of the book.

Leopold lays out his definition of conservation in “The Round River.”

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. By land is meant all of the things on, over, or in the earth. Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend: you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators; you cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The land is one organism. Its parts, like our own parts, compete with each other and co-operate with each other. The competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the co-operations. You can regulate them—cautiously—but not abolish them.”

Part IV: The Upshot

The book closes with the culmination of Leopold’s lifelong learning and ideas about conservation in the main essay entitled “The Land Ethic.” He proposes that we expand our concept of community and ethical behavior to include soils, waters, plants, and animals.

“A land, ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.”

About Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold was a keen observer of nature, an original thinker, and thankfully a good chronicler of his experiences and ideas. He was a husband, father, forester, conservationist, philosopher, outdoorsman, and a college professor. He is often called the father of wilderness conservation in the United States.

Leopold was born in Iowa in 1887. As a child, he learned about plants, animals, hunting, wilderness, and adventure. In 1909, he earned a master’s degree in forestry and landed a job with the U.S. Forest Service in the Southwest where he promoted radical ideas like managing wildlife game species, setting aside land for wilderness, and the importance of watersheds.

He married Estella Bergere in 1912 and the first of their five children was born in 1913. During the next couple of decades, Leopold had ups and downs at the U.S. Forest Service, worked at other jobs, and suffered debilitating illnesses.

In 1933, Leopold became the director and teacher of a new graduate program in game management at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. While at the University, he was instrumental in establishing the UW Arboretum with the purpose of recreating a sample of Wisconsin’s prairies, marshes, and woodlands as they were before the pioneers had settled the land.

A Sand County Almanac literally has roots in 1935 when Leopold bought an abandoned farm on the Wisconsin River near Baraboo, with a shack for a house, and began restoring the land by planting thousands of tree seedlings with his family. When he died in 1948, the land was beautiful, restored, and mostly wild.

The Bottom Line

Aldo Leopold’s writing is lyrical, enlightening, and often humorous. He was a good storyteller and he explained complex ideas in an understandable manner. If he was still alive today, I bet he would be in high demand as a speaker in environmental, hunting, and philosophical circles.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Sand County Almanac: with Essays on Conservation from Round River and I believe that Leopold’s ideas about conservation are important and still relevant today. In fact, if mid 20th-century citizens and politicians had implemented Leopold’s land ethic concepts, we would be a lot further along in acting as if we are part of nature instead of separate from it.

“Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization.”

Featured Image at Top:  Photo of Aldo Leopold preparing a journal note at the shack in Sauk County, WI in 1946 is courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

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