Why National Monuments Matter: A Call for Public Comments

National Monuments preserve existing federal lands from future development. Let's keep it that way.
National Monuments preserve existing federal lands from future development. Let's keep it that way. Jeff Bartlett
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The Trump Administration has ordered an unprecedented "review" of dozens of U.S. National Monuments, seeking to roll back federal protection for existing public lands. In all, 27 are being reviewed, totaling 11.3 million acres (that's not a typo) of protected land and an astonishing 236.9 million nautical square miles of protected waters.

The threat is especially dire for the newly-designated Bears Ears NM and Katahdin Woods and Waters NM. Both were created in 2016 by the Obama administration. Bears Ears has sparked an especially-intense battle, with Utah Republicans asking President Trump to rescind the National Monument designation, and outdoor industry leaders choosing to pull the Outdoor Retailer show out of Utah in response.

The "review" process includes a request for public comments, and we implore our readers to let this administration know exactly what you think about this attack on our public lands.

Please visit this page to leave your public comments: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=DOI-2017-0002-0001

Time is short, as comments on Bears Ears will only be considered during a 15-day window ending on May 26. From the notice:

"To ensure consideration, written comments relating to the Bears Ears National Monument must be submitted before May 26, 2017. Written comments relating to all other National Monuments must be submitted before July 10, 2017."

The outdoor industry is rallying around Bears Ears, but we need your help. Let’s examine some of the reasons why the National Monument designation is significant, and why we believe repealing existing NMs (including Bears Ears) would be a tragic and short-sighted decision.

Why National Monuments are Important

Jeff Bartlett

Let’s begin with the obvious: many of our most beloved (and most visited) National Parks began as National Monuments. Grand Canyon, Olympic, Zion, and Acadia National Parks would likely not exist at all had they not previously been declared NMs.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the country’s largest, was first set aside as a National Monument in 1980. Joshua Tree National Park, created in 1994, had been designated as a National Monument 58 years prior in 1936. It’s a long list.

These were all created by presidential declaration under the Antiquities Act, originally enacted in order to prevent looting of Native American artifacts from archaeological sites. Quite literally, the idea was to make it easy for the federal government to permanently preserve lands it already owned, as described here:

"The real achievement of the Antiquities Act of 1906 was that it allowed the establishment of a system of preservation without the approval of Congress. Prior to its existence there had been few mechanisms through which the federal government could permanently and easily preserve the public domain."

Since 1906, this power has primarily been used to protect public land from future commercial development or exploitation. It’s important to note that, under the Act, the president can only create National Monuments from land the federal government already controls. Hardly sounds like a "massive federal land grab" to me.

Of course, many of them never become National Parks, but the worth of these properties isn’t tied to future parkhood. The whole idea is to protect locations with ecological, cultural, archeological, or historic significance, so it’s not surprising these are some pretty special places. Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and others are beyond spectacular; why wouldn’t we want them preserved for future generations to enjoy?

Additionally, most National Monuments are of major economic importance to their surrounding communities. That leads us to our next point.

How public land contributes to our economy

Jeff Bartlett

If it’s a matter of economics, the figures simply don’t add up. As Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard penned in a blistering op-ed about the Bears Ears controversy this January:

"The outdoor industry creates three times the amount of jobs than the fossil fuels industry, yet the Governor has spent most of his time in office trying to rip taxpayer-owned lands out from under us and hand them over to drilling and mining companies."

Is this fake news? Are these statistics made up? Nope, they’re the result of exhaustive research, including the Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Recreation Economy Report and Headwaters Economics’ Economic Impact of National Parks report.

The National Park Service itself also publishes its own annual report, detailing the Economic Contributions of National Park Visitor Spending. In fact, with the passing of the Rec Act, the Department of Commerce will now include the outdoor recreation economy as part of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Jeff Bartlett

Those OIA and Headwaters documents were updated in May of 2017, and the NPS report came out in April. Chouinard’s statements above predate these updates, so let’s look at some key points from this data as well as the National Monuments study cited above:

  • U.S. consumers spend $887 Billion annually on outdoor recreation, and the "outdoor recreation economy" is responsible for 7.6 million American jobs. (source: OIA)

  • Outdoor recreation generates $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue (source: OIA)

  • National Parks, National Monuments, and other NPS-managed public lands account for $34.9 billion in economic output and about 318,000 jobs nationwide. (source: NPS)

  • Per capita income increased for counties adjacent to every National Monument studied in the years following establishment. (source: Headwaters)

  • All of the regional economies adjacent to the studied National Monuments experienced growth following designation. (source: Headwaters)

Comparatively, the combined mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction, forestry, and logging industries account for about 704,000 American jobs (source: U.S. Department of Labor). By those numbers, it looks like the outdoor industry accounts for more than ten times as many U.S. jobs as these extractive uses, not three.

In light of these figures, dissolving National Monuments clearly isn’t in the short-term or long-term interests of our national economy, nor the regional economies nearby. We think preserving land for public use is an investment, not a squandered opportunity for economic growth.

Economic prosperity is hardly the only reason to protect land from development, however.

Conservation has value beyond economics

Jeff Bartlett

While we believe the finance-based arguments in favor of this "review" are invalid, let’s not pretend this is just about money. Do we need to trot out John Muir quotes? Do we need to scroll through eye-popping photos from National Monuments that our current administration is actively trying to dismantle?

We suspect that, if you’ve spent any time in the outdoors (likely, if you’re reading this article on this site), you recognize the value in land conservation. We believe public lands, and those with archaeological, cultural, or ecological significance are certainly worth defending. With more and more people enjoying the outdoors, we need continued public access to beautiful destinations with opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Should existing National Monuments be rescinded, a dangerous precedent would be created. If an incoming presidential administration can undo Bears Ears NM or the 20-year-old Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, where does it stop? Are any of the country’s 129 NMs safe? Will they start dismantling National Parks next?

This needs to stop, and it needs to stop right now before it goes any further.

If you haven't already, please take a moment to share your opinion here: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=DOI-2017-0002-0001

We can’t guarantee that the administration will listen to our collective voice on this issue, but we can make sure that our voices are heard. Share this article, spread the word, and let’s make sure our political leaders hear what we think about losing public lands.

Originally written for RootsRated Media.

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