Save America’s Natural Treasures

Update: Comment on Marine Monuments by July 26.

By David Wiggins, Conservation Co-Chair

In 1906, under the recently enacted Antiquities Act, President Theodore Roosevelt created the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, protecting a stunning 1267-foot volcanic butte and the surrounding area from mining development. Since then, presidents of both parties have used the Antiquities Act to protect and preserve more than 150 of America’s most beautiful and historic places, ranging from the Statue of Liberty, to California’s Giant Sequoia groves, to the coral reefs of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Many monuments, like the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and the California Channel Islands, have eventually been converted by Congress into national parks.

Now President Trump wants to reverse the process, ordering Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all large monuments created since 1996, and make recommendations for changes or revocation.

The review includes 27 monuments nationwide, including the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles County, the Sand to Snow Monument in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, the Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, and the Mojave Trails north of Joshua Tree. All four are ecologically significant, all four are crucial open space parkland for Southern California, and all four are gorgeous beyond words. It’s heartbreaking to think that Donald Trump could sweep these natural treasures away by executive decree. We should take some hope in the strong likelihood that the Constitution forbids it. With the Antiquities Act, the Congress delegated to the president its constitutional authority to create new monuments on federal land. But it did not delegate authority to abolish them.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has written to Zinke pointing out this legal reality, and warning that he will use all available legal tools to prevent the abolition or shrinkage of the six national monuments now under review in California. Maine’s Attorney General has issued a similar warning.

Zinke has already recommended that Trump scale back the size of the Bears Ears Monument in Utah, a land rich with Native American artifacts and breathtaking natural vistas. The Department of the Interior has closed public comment on Bears Ears. But if you object to the threat to the other 26 monuments that are part of our historic and natural heritage, let them know now. They are accepting public comments until July 10. I urge you to make your voice heard at Let’s stop this outrageous and unconstitutional action.

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