When the Ken Burns’ PBS documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” aired a few years ago, it lived up to its title. The six-part series examining the history of our public lands made it clear that they are a living testament to democracy and the ability of the American people to save the places they love. A national park or monument designation is usually the result of decades of work by local communities to bring a special place to the attention of the federal government and assure that it will be protected in perpetuity.
On April 26, we all got a look at what may be an American administration’s worst idea when President Donald Trump issued an executive order for a review of all national monuments designated in the past 30 years. In 120 days, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will issue a report that will take the next step toward stripping national monuments of that designation.
Since the Antiquities Act was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to safeguard public lands and cultural and historical sites for all Americans, 16 presidents — eight Republicans and eight Democrats — have used their authority to do so. The successful preservation of our great places tells the world who we are as a nation. Trump’s order is an attack on our national identity.
We could not agree more with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.: “Make no mistake, Trump’s so-called review is a first step towards the desecration of our most precious national treasures. This assault on environmental and cultural national monuments is unprecedented and unconscionable. It stands in stunning contrast to bipartisan consensus dating to the days of Theodore Roosevelt that natural wonders should be preserved against commercialism and exploitation.”
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By “unprecedented,” Sen. Blumenthal meant that no president has ever attempted to revoke a monument designation.
By “desecration” and “exploitation,” Sen. Blumenthal was referring to what lies beneath many national monuments: oil, gas and mineral resources coveted by fossil fuel companies.
This is not, repeat not, the way to make America great again.
It has been noted that we are a deeply divided nation these days, often facing each other over a canyon of acrimony on multiple issues. But we’re not divided on this. In a 2017 poll conducted by Colorado College, 80 percent of western voters supported keeping protections for existing monuments in place. Only 13 percent supported removing protections.
And this is personal. The Carrizo Plain National Monument, protecting the remaining 204,000 acres of California’s Central Valley grasslands, home to elk and antelope and the largest concentration of endangered plant and animal species in the state, is on the hit list of Trump and Zinke’s “review.” The Carrizo is severely beautiful. Go there, get out of your car and survey the horizon-to-horizon landscape that looks essentially the same as it did when California was part of Mexico, when Cleopatra was floating down the Nile and when Native Americans first inscribed sacred images at the site of Painted Rock 4,000 years ago. It tightens your lungs and brings tears to your eyes. There is nothing else like it.
That’s why we must fight to the last ditch what Trump and Zinke are planning, starting now. Call Secretary Zinke’s office at 1-202-208-3100 and tell him that any attempt to revoke or shrink our national monuments is an assault on our historical, cultural, and natural heritage.
His phone is pretty busy these days. So just do the same thing San Luis Obispo County citizens did a generation ago with a previous administration until the Carrizo Plain was finally preserved and protected as a national monument: Keep trying until you get through.
Karen Merriam, Lindi Doud, Chuck Tribbey, Christine Mulholland, Sue Harvey, Stephanie Gong and Marcia Alter are the executive committee of the Sierra Club’s Santa Lucia Chapter.