National Monuments At Risk
June 16, 2017
Fiendish. Diabolical. That’s how a local Arizona newspaper described efforts to protect a nearby landmark, arguing that “the fate of Arizona depends exclusively upon the development of her mineral resources.”
The year was 1897. The area in question was the Grand Canyon, which overcame these objections to become a national monument, and later, a national park.
More than a century and 129 national monuments later, our public lands have paid dividends—for local economies and our national legacy—on the far-sighted decisions to protect them.
But sometimes the politics of the day obscure the big picture. Enter the Trump administration, the first to ever attempt to reverse a national monument designation. The president’s April executive order directing that 27 national monuments be considered for the chopping block has set in motion a review by the Department of the Interior that is currently underway.
The executive order threatens not only some of our nation’s youngest monuments, but also the public lands law that safeguards all national monuments, present and future: the Antiquities Act of 1906. Undermining monument designations and protections would establish a dangerous precedent.
Upper Missouri River Breaks
Katahdin Woods & Waters
Craters of the Moon
Basin & Range
Northeast Canyons & Seamounts
Canyon of the Ancients
Rio Grande del Norte
San Gabriel Mountains
Sand to Snow
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks
Pacific Remote Islands
The 120 years since the Arizona newspaper editorialized against saving the Grand Canyon have proven that protecting our public lands from extractive industries is a battle worth fighting.
In recent months, Earthjustice has begun legal action to protect two of these monuments (and ) from industry lawsuits. We are ready to defend the Antiquities Act itself and national monuments protected under the law.
Six of the national monuments under review are the targets of politicians who are keen to hand them over to industry and so are particularly threatened:
Bears Ears National Monument was designated in response to a concerted effort by the Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni tribal governments to seek lasting protection for the unique historic and contemporary cultural values and sites in the Bears Ears region. The monument stretches across scenic mesas, towering sandstone cliffs and canyons that epitomize the beauty of southern Utah.
More than 100,000 Native American archaeological and cultural sites, some dating to 12,000 B.C., are protected in Bears Ears. Tribes continue to visit these lands to hold ceremonies and to connect with their ancestors. “What is sacred cannot be reversed,” said James Adaki, President of the Navajo’s Oljato Chapter and a member of the Bears Ears Commission. (See photos and videos of Bears Ears.)
How is Bears Ears particularly at risk? Looting of archaeological sites, uranium mining, off-road vehicle use and other activities have long threatened the area, and will now be curtailed. Yet, extractive industries still have their eye on the monument. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) says he hopes to carve out coal reserves in Bears Ears National Monument, as the area is “not sensitive land.” On June 10th, Interior Secretary Zinke issued a recommendation to President Trump urging him to shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.
"Make no mistake," said Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney at Earthjustice, "Unilaterally shrinking the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument would not only be a slap in the face to the five sovereign tribes who share sacred ties to this land, it would violate both the Antiquities Act and the separation of powers doctrine. If President Trump follows Secretary Zinke’s recommendation to shrink the boundaries of these cherished lands, we will see him in court."
- Comment from Aaron of Price, Utah: “I am a Utah resident, and I feel strongly that national monuments such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante should not be reduced in size. …”
- Comment from Aaron of Price, Utah: “… They contain unique features, have vast cultural resources and are sacred to Native Americans.”
- Comment from Daniella of Oakland, California: “I was in the Bears Ears area with my husband just two weeks ago and was astonished at the natural beauty of the area …”
- Comment from Daniella of Oakland, California: “… We saw pictographs, petroglyphs, granaries, cliff dwellings, and other pre-Columbian Native American sites …”
- Comment from Anne of Logan, Utah: “Keeping land for future generations is so important. …”
- Comment from Anne of Logan, Utah: “… Land such as Bears Ears is fragile. It is not just sand but a delicate ecosystem. Any disturbance will be around for eons. …”
- Comment from Anne of Logan, Utah: “… The land has sacred values and offers escape to those needing to become recharged from every day stresses.”
- Comment from Susan of Montrose, Colorado: “People need places to relax and escape stresses in their lives, as well as to simply appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. …”
- Comment from Susan of Montrose, Colorado: “… Hiking in Bears Ears or Grand Staircase is a pleasure people in the West don't want compromised.”
- Comment from Kathleen of Reston, Virginia: “How can anyone see the breathtaking Bears Ears National Monument and not vow to protect it for years to come? …”
- Comment from Kathleen of Reston, Virginia: “… Please continue maintaining the national monuments. Your grandchildren will thank you.”
- Comment from Virginia of Arcadia, Michigan: “We are traveling to the gorgeous and sacred Bears Ears this fall. I hope our children will also get to see it.”
- Comment from Virginia of Arcadia, Michigan: “I know this area of Bears Ears National Monument well. I have camped in and hiked this amazing land for over 12 years and each time it renews my spirit.”
- Comment from Virginia of Arcadia, Michigan: “Wild places like this and the other 26 national monuments, are true national treasures that once degraded or eliminated can NEVER be replaced …”
- Comment from Virginia of Morrison, Colorado: “… Your decision, one way or the other, will have lasting consequences. …”
- Comment from Virginia of Morrison, Colorado: “… There is no going back if you make the wrong decision where wild places and industry are concerned. …”
- Comment from Virginia of Morrison, Colorado: “… With all my heart, I ask you to continue to protect our national monuments.”
The first monument designated specifically for its vibrant biodiversity, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument protects public forests, meadows, mountains and streams spanning Oregon and Northern California.
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument area serves as a biological corridor for plants and animals to move between distinct eco-regions, providing a gateway for the Pacific fisher, mule deer, gray wolves and spotted owls, among other species, and also a designated winter range for black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk. Seventy scientists and the governments of the two towns closest to the monument joined a call in 2011 from 15 independent scientists for an expansion of the monument.
How is Cascade-Siskiyou particularly at risk? The timber industry and its allies, who would like to open up these forests for unsustainable logging, have brought three lawsuits. Interior Secretary Zinke will be traveling to Oregon in July and meeting with county and timber industry representatives challenging the United States in federal district court over the expansion of Cascade-Siskiyou—without public notice to organizations and entities that support the Monument, including Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, and Governor Brown. Earthjustice is part of a team defending the national monument in court.
Meanwhile, in Congress, the so-called “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017” (H.R. 2936)—more appropriately titled “Massive Gift to the Timber Industry at All Costs Act of 2017”—would override Cascade-Siskiyou’s National Monument designation. The bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee in late June and will soon be headed to the House floor for a vote. Tell your representative to vote NO on this dangerous bill, and protect our forests.
- Comment from Steve of Altadena, California: “Having backpacked for weeks in many regions of the Cascade-Siskiyou NM, I have seen, heard, breathed and felt its majesty in person. …”
- Comment from Steve of Altadena, California: “… Do not turn any part of it over to the greed-filled, profit-minded goals of industrialists.”
- Comment from Terran of Arcata, California: “The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is some of the most sacred and beautiful land I have ever experienced …”
- Comment from Terran of Arcata, California: “… You and I and all of us are part of the Earth, deeply connected at our core.”
- Comment from Judy of Portland, Oregon: “In Oregon and Northern California, we pride ourselves on keeping our lands safe for recreational and ecological activities. …”
- Comment from Judy of Portland, Oregon: “… Please continue this tradition by maintaining the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument as a special place for all Americans to explore and enjoy.”
- Comment from Summer of Portland, Oregon: “Oregon is my home. Please do not ruin this beautiful forest of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. …”
- Comment from Summer of Portland, Oregon: “… It should be maintained for generations beyond to treasure and enjoy. Using it for logging is just a quick money-making scheme. …”
- Comment from Summer of Portland, Oregon: “… I have two kids, and we love to camp and hike and explore the wilderness. Please don't take this one away.”
Home to some of the most dramatic desert scenery in the West, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is often described as a “Dinosaur Shangri-la.” In the two decades since the area was protected, paleontologists have unearthed fossils from 21 different types of dinosaurs previously unknown to science.
Earthjustice, on behalf of conservation groups, successfully defended Grand Staircase-Escalante in the early 2000s when two Utah counties sought to expand use of off-road dirt bikes and ATVs within the monument area.
How is Grand Staircase-Escalante particularly at risk? The work to establish Grand Staircase-Escalante in the late 1990's sparked lawsuits and proposals to curb presidential authority under the Antiquities Act. Monument opponents failed then, but the controversy continued—in part because of industries’ wish to exploit fossil fuels that lie beneath the monument. Without its protected status, Grand Staircase-Escalante would be vulnerable to coal mining and oil and gas development, according to an analysis from the Center for American Progress.
- Comment from Melanie of West Point, Utah: “I have visited Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It's a unique, incredibly beautiful place that …”
- Comment from Melanie of West Point, Utah: “… I feel strongly should remain protected so my children, grandchildren, and all who revere such untouched landscapes like it may still enjoy it as it is now. …”
- Comment from Melanie of West Point, Utah: “… It is irreplaceable and, once put to other uses, would be gone forever. …”
- Comment from Melanie of West Point, Utah: “… Don't let that happen to any of the many national monuments in this country, including Bears Ears in my home state of Utah!”
- Comment from Roberta of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: “If you have any doubt that Grand Staircase should remain a national monument, go and see it for yourself. …”
- Comment from Roberta of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: “… To see it is to know it MUST be preserved.”
- Comment from Lindse of Millcreek, Utah: “Grand Staircase is one of the most beautiful pieces of land in the world …”
- Comment from Lindse of Millcreek, Utah: “… and a place that my family and I frequent for camping, hiking and backpacking trips to enjoy the beauty and peace. …”
- Comment from Lindse of Millcreek, Utah: “… Please help protect and preserve this monument for future generations to enjoy and create their own memories.”
- Comment from Richard of Henderson, North Carolina: “I have made personal visits to Grand Staircase-Escalante, and by so doing, helped the local economy. …”
- Comment from Richard of Henderson, North Carolina: “… I would never have visited the Grand Staircase area had it not been designated as a national monument …”
- Comment from Richard of Henderson, North Carolina: “… so I am testimony to the fact that it helps the local economy. …”
- Comment from Richard of Henderson, North Carolina: “… This is a treasure of natural history and native culture that should be protected for future generations.”
- Comment from Richard of Henderson, North Carolina: “… I urge you to keep the designation of national monument status.”
Ensuring lasting protection for a magnificent stretch of Maine’s North Woods, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is home to iconic forests, miles of pristine waterways and lush wildlife habitat.
Katahdin is a favorite of visitors wishing to recharge with hiking, biking, cross-country skiing or fishing. As a result of the public's input during meetings held prior to the designation, hunting and snowmobiling are permitted within the area, a first for a national monument.
President Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the Antiquities Act into law, spent time in Katahdin in the late 1870s while recuperating from health issues. The area left a lasting impression on him and his desire to conserve nature for the enjoyment of all. John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau and Percival P. Baxter are among the many notable figures in American history who had formative experiences in the woods of Katahdin.
How is Katahdin Woods and Waters particularly at risk? Maine Governor Paul LePage, claiming the forest product industry will be hurt, has vocally sought to have the protections rescinded (in spite of the fact that small business owners near the monument are already reporting benefits from the monument). In May, the governor banned all official signs to the monument along main roads and interstates.
- Comment from Dawn of Syracuse, New York: “I have visited the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine. …”
- Comment from Dawn of Syracuse, New York: “… These and others like them are national treasures and, as was intended, should be open to the public in perpetuity.”
- Comment from Marla of Norridgewock, Maine: “Maine's Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is one of the things which makes Maine so great. …”
- Comment from Marla of Norridgewock, Maine: “… Remote, wild, quiet. A place for the refreshment of the spirit. Ruining this, ruins a big part of what tourists and Mainers come to Maine wilderness for.”
- Comment from Alex of East Montpelier, Vermont: “This review of the Katahdin Forest should take note of the value of this land to New Englanders. I'm from Vermont and have visited Maine many times. …”
- Comment from Alex of East Montpelier, Vermont: “… I urge you to maintain the national monument distinction for the Katahdin Woods, under the Antiquities Act that benefits all citizens …”
- Comment from Alex of East Montpelier, Vermont: “… not just private corporations eager to consume resources one by one.”
- Comment from Mary of Newport, Rhode Island: “… Please save Katahdin. It's a wildlife sanctuary and a draw for campers, hikers, bikers, etc. The Northeast needs Katahdin!”
The nation’s first major marine national monument in the Atlantic, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is located off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Centuries-old cold-water corals are the foundation of this deep-sea ecosystem. The four seamounts—biological oases of marine life—now protected by the monument are the only ones found in U.S. Atlantic waters.
Upwellings of deep, cold water deliver nutrients to the lower echelons of the food chain—plankton, squid and forage fish—that in turn, feed the sperm whales and North Atlantic right whales that thrive in these waters. (See photos and videos.)
“Last August, in just one day, NOAA scientists recorded numerous sperm whales and beaked whales, as well as 120 fin whales, 70 pilot whales, 50 humpbacks, 2,500 common dolphins, 100 striped dolphins, 80 bottlenose dolphins, 60 Risso’s dolphins and ocean sunfish,” wrote Zack Klyver, head naturalist at Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co., in an op-ed published in the Bangor Daily News. “It’s easy to see why a marine scientist at the New England Aquarium described this place as ‘the Serengeti of the ocean.’”
How are the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts particularly at risk? The deep ocean is becoming more accessible to oil and gas exploration and industrial fishing with each advance in technology. If remaining marine reserves are not permanently protected now, they risk being destroyed by resource extraction activities, including bottom-scouring fishing. With these areas will go some of our best hope for restoring ecosystems that have been devastated by decades of overfishing and development.
Earthjustice is in court to protect this rare underwater national monument from a commercial fishing industry lawsuit. "There is no question," explained Earthjustice attorney Roger Fleming, "that President Obama met all legal requirements in carefully designing this monument to protect its rare deep-sea canyons and seamounts, and that he appropriately exercised the authority provided to him by Congress to protect and preserve this national treasure for generations to come."
- Comment from Edith of Albany, New York: “The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument is in a region where fisheries are just not yielding as much fish as formerly. …”
- Comment from Edith of Albany, New York: “… It is economically needed to leave this National Monument alone so that it can act as a nursery from which fish emerge for the fishermen in the region.”
- Comment from Jean of Santa Cruz, California: “I want to comment in particular on the marine Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument. …”
- Comment from Jean of Santa Cruz, California: “If you destroy its protected status, you will also destroy one of the very important nurseries for the Atlantic ocean fisheries. …”
- Comment from Jean of Santa Cruz, California: “… It is imperative for the future of our food sources, as well as the health of the ocean in general, to protect some of these very special marine places, like this very national monument. …”
- Comment from Jean of Santa Cruz, California: “… There are very valid reasons why this place was chosen and protected. You will be hurting everyone in the end if you open this area up for grabs. …”
- Comment from Jean of Santa Cruz, California: “… Please take protect the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, as well as ALL of the other national monuments!”
- Comment from Chris of New York, New York: “Growing up in New England, I know how important a healthy marine environment is to those coastal communities. …”
- Comment from Chris of New York, New York: “… Please, I urge you to not roll back protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument. …”
- Comment from Chris of New York, New York: “… We need to protect and preserve that environment & not squander it.”
- Comment from Mark of New York, New York: “Living in New York City, and frequently visiting Cape Cod, I am particularly concerned regarding the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument. …”
- Comment from Mark of New York, New York: “… The marine animals of the North Atlantic who live there or periodically pass through there are precious, …”
- Comment from Mark of New York, New York: “… and it is an enlightened thing to preserve this sanctuary for them in that location.”
- Comment from Ann of Scarborough, Maine: “Having witnessed the devastating effects of the extraction industry in several land ecosystems (coal in Appalachia and in Colorado) …”
- Comment from Ann of Scarborough, Maine: “… I feel strongly that this industry should not be permitted to wreak its havoc on ocean seamounts. …”
- Comment from Ann of Scarborough, Maine: “… I vehemently oppose removing the protection of National Monument status from Seamounts and all other recently designated National Monuments. …”
- Comment from Ann of Scarborough, Maine: “… Do not be the man that historical footnotes describe as removing protection from the national treasures belonging to all Americans.”
The undersea Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is home to extensive coral reefs supporting 7,000 marine species, as well as important habitat for the threatened green sea turtle, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, 22 species of seabirds and other creatures yet to be discovered. The protected area is also where Native Hawaiians believe all life began and where spirits return after death.
Planning for the monument's expansion, which was supported by the state's governor, included more than 135 community meetings across all of Hawaiʻi’s islands. As a result of this dialogue, the final size of the expanded monument was changed to ensure access to fishing grounds used by small-boat fishermen. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is a co-trustee of the monument, which gives Native Hawaiians a say in the monument’s management.
How is Papahānaumokuākea particularly at risk? Commercial longline fishermen oppose the monument, claiming that it restricts their fishing area. But Hawaiʻi’s longliners have no trouble reaching their annual bigeye tuna fishing quota; last year, it took just seven months to reach the quota.
Despite the abundance of fish outside the monument area, the commercial fishing industry seems determined to maximize private profits at the expense of the public good. Attempts may be made to lift the restriction on commercial fishing in the monument area, roll back the monument expansion, or even reverse the entire monument designation. "Earthjustice intends to oppose any such efforts in court," said Paul Achitoff, managing attorney at Earthjustice.
- Comment from Cheryl of Warren, Minnesota: “I've visited the marine national monument in Hawaiʻi. It was breathtakingly beautiful! …”
- Comment from Cheryl of Warren, Minnesota: “… Please don't destroy this and other national treasures that are part of our national heritage!”
- Comment from Susan of River Hills, Wisconsin: “I wept for joy when I learned of the unprecedented expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaiʻi in 2016. …”
- Comment from Susan of River Hills, Wisconsin: “… It was a visionary decision for our entire world. I fail to now see the vision in decimating this and other national monuments. …”
- Comment from Susan of River Hills, Wisconsin: “… Who will stand to weep in joy when these lands are destroyed?”
- Comment from Leslie of Pahoa, Hawaiʻi: “As a Hawaiʻi resident, I find it heartbreaking that you might consider removing protection from the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument here …”
- Comment from Leslie of Pahoa, Hawaiʻi: “… Think of what you'll be taking from the people: irreplaceable refuges, thrown open to pollution, desecration and destruction. …”
- Comment from Leslie of Pahoa, Hawaiʻi: “… Please have a heart and let them remain protected. ”
- Comment from Stephanie of Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi: “As a citizen of Hawaiʻi for the past 37 years, I ask you please to protect our Papahānaumokuākea Marine National monument. …”
- Comment from Stephanie of Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi: “… Our oceans have already been defiled by overfishing and climate change. Hawaiʻi already has more endangered species than any other place on the planet. …”
- Comment from Stephanie of Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi: “… Taking all that into consideration, why must you downgrade our beautiful Papahānaumokuākea where many incredible fish and other sea life abound? …”
- Comment from Stephanie of Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi: “… Please think about our posterity.”
- Comment from Nancy of Lahaina, Hawaiʻi: “This amazing Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument must be protected and cherished. …”
- Comment from Nancy of Lahaina, Hawaiʻi: “… Please ensure it is not threatened in any way but is protected for generations to come.”
- Comment from Cynthia of Keaau, Hawaiʻi: “As a resident of Hawaiʻi who has sailed 35,000 sea miles through the South Pacific, I clearly recognize the dangers our oceans are subject to. …”
- Comment from Cynthia of Keaau, Hawaiʻi: “… The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument must remain protected. No resource is more vital than the health of our environment. …”
- Comment from Cynthia of Keaau, Hawaiʻi: “… Protect our public lands and waters from exploitation by private enterprise.”