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.
Make a public comment at www.regulations.gov. 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.
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
- 4th of July – Be a Green Citizen
- Bird and Bird Habitat Conservation Legislation
- Green Legislation – Roosevelt Administrations
- John Muir: The Eight Wilderness Discovery Books – Book Review
- National Park History and Legislation
- The World is Blue – Book Review
- Antiquities Act 1906-2006 Maps, Facts & Figures – National Park Service
- Executive Order 13792–Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act, by President Donald Trump, 04/26/17 – the American Presidency Project
- List of National Monuments of the United States – Wikipedia
- National monument review press release and list – U.S. Department of the Interior, 05/05/17
- National Monuments – United States Code 2015 Edition, U.S. Government Publishing Office
- Proclamation 7393–Establishment of the Carrizo Plain National Monument, by President Bill Clinton, 01/17/01 – The American Presidency Project