I’ve always believed that our national parks and our national monuments were as secure as Yosemite’s Half Dome: solid as a rock, inviolate, and well-protected from those who would try to diminish or exploit them. Sadly, that’s not the case.
In May of 2014, I wrote an article titled “America Needs Parks Now More Than Ever.” At the time, there was a concerted effort afoot in Congress to gut the 1906 Antiquities Act and prevent more wildlands, already in public hands, from being declared national monuments, a designation placing them out of the reach of corporate profiteers and often a stepping stone to national park status. Fortunately, the effort to gut the Antiquities Act failed in 2014, but it is now back with a vengeance. A year after we celebrated their centennial, our national parks need our support more than ever.
Forty-nine of the 157 national monuments created by past Republican and Democratic presidents have been elevated to national park status, among them the Grand Canyon, Lassen Peak, Zion, Joshua Tree, and the Channel Islands -- all sites Kathy and I have visited and become emotionally, if not spiritually attached to. How could anybody visit one of those special places and not be thankful for the compassion, wisdom, and forethought of presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt? Theodore Roosevelt summed up the need to set aside these natural wonders in this passage which remains relevant today:
There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.
Our parks and wild places face threats today like never before. Members of Congress are still engaged in efforts to gut the Antiquities Act and stifle legislation intended to save wilderness and establish new parks. The White House has proposed cutting the Department of Interior’s already limited budget by 12% in its blueprint for fiscal year 2018. On April 26, President Trump signed an executive order that could result in the rescinding or reduction in the size of national monuments, potentially opening them up to drilling, mining, and other development. Recently, the president ordered a review of so-called 9B rules, which govern oil and gas extraction in the national parks. If you thought, as I did, that national park status meant hands off to those who would exploit what lies beneath, think again. To make matters worse, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recently signed an order removing a moratorium on coal leases on federal lands.