National Monuments Are a Boon to Western Communities

Westerners care deeply for their national parks and monuments. These public lands help citizens of the West find solace and inspiration in what has otherwise become an increasingly hectic world. Indeed many Westerners choose to live here primarily because of access afforded to cherished and conserved landscapes. Gazing up at big skies, taking that much needed fishing trip, finding adventure on the river, and spotting wildlife during a peaceful hike are more than just activities, they are a part of our heritage.

Now, 27 national monuments across the nation, including 12 in the interior West, may lose their protected status. They are currently “under review” as part of President Trump’s April 26 executive order (available here) directing Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke to  conduct a review of all national monument designations made under the Antiquities Act since 1996 that cover more than 100,000 acres, or where “the Secretary determines that the designation… was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”

The Antiquities Act was signed into law in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, to preserve lands and cultural and historical sites across the nation for the public. Since that time, the law and its conservation mission have been embraced by presidents of both political parties to preserve treasured landscapes including Grand Canyon and Zion, as well the recently designated – and hotly debated – Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

In all, presidents have designated over 150 National monuments to help protect America’s cultural, historical, and natural heritage for future generations. No past president has attempted to revoke a predecessor’s designation, and the type of sweeping review ordered by President Trump could not only put national monuments at risk, but set a very dangerous precedent.

Westerners are rightfully concerned. Preserved land and cultural sites are integral to the quality of life enjoyed in the West.  We can explore the land unimpeded. We have opportunities to continue traditions like hunting and fishing.

Public lands have far reaching benefits for surrounding communities. Research has shown that investment in outdoor recreation correlates with reduced crime, improved education outcomes, and lower health care costs. Rural communities in the West rely on these critical landscapes to help fuel their economies and provide jobs. National monuments help bring in tourism and outdoor recreation dollars that support critical services and employment. For example, some 30,000 visitors travel each year to the Four Corners area of southwestern Colorado for their chance to visit the 6,000 Ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings, kivas, and rock paintings housed in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Canyon of the Ancients is among those to be reviewed under the new Executive Order.

The Outdoor Industry Association published a report recently establishing that the outdoor recreation economy is responsible for generating upwards of $887 billion in consumer spending annually. This equates to $65 million in federal tax revenue, and nearly $60 million in state tax revenue. Regions surrounding national monuments have seen continued growth in employment and personal income. Rural western counties with more federal lands had healthier economies, on average, than their peers without an equal amount of conserved acreage.

Voters in the West recognize these benefits. A 2017 Conservation in the West poll conducted by Colorado College showed that 80% of western voters support keeping protections for existing monuments in place while only 13% support removing protections for existing monuments. A 2014 Hart Research poll conducted for the Center for American Progress showed that 90% of voters support presidential action to protect some public lands and waters as parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas.

The April 26 executive order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to consider a variety of factors as he reviews 20 years’ worth of Antiquities Act designations. These factors include the use and enjoyment of non-federal land within or adjacent to designated boundaries, and the economic impact on states, tribes, and localities, as well as other factors as the Secretary may deem appropriate. Western Resource Advocates hopes that Secretary Zinke, a self-proclaimed Teddy Roosevelt Conservationist, will use this opportunity to affirm not only the very real economic value of conserved land, but inherent value in conserving land for the sake of conservation and enjoyment.

In 1910, then President Roosevelt, speaking on the power of nature, said, “There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”

If you haven’t done so already, please take action by clicking here and telling Congress that you support keeping our national monuments designations made under the Antiquities Act. Together, we can preserve these treasured lands today and for future generations.

Top image: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona, one of the national monuments mandated for review by President Trump.