Protected public lands are part of our Western heritage and deserve ongoing bipartisan support.
National Parks & Protected Lands
Our nation’s system of protected public lands showcases America’s most spectacular outdoor spaces. These lands, including national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas are essential to our Western way of life. They draw visitors into our region, benefit local economies, and are a major reason people choose to live in the West, start families here, and build their businesses.
Land Conservation is Community-Driven
Years of hard work go into protecting a national park, monument, or wilderness area, including community meetings; scientific, social, and economic analyses; and other planning efforts. Conservation recommendations often begin through the collaborative work of conservation groups, citizens, and federal land management agencies, before moving to Congress, which can enact legislation to permanently protect deserving landscapes.
Congress is failing to act on its bipartisan conservation tradition
Conserving public lands has a long history of bipartisanship. Since President Theodore Roosevelt, the “Conservation President,” created some of America’s first protected landscapes in the early 20th century, Congress has passed more than one thousand bills preserving our cultural and natural heritage, regardless of which party held the majority.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed more wilderness designations into law than any other year in history. In fact, the 1980s mark the most wilderness designations in any one decade, to the tune of 72 million acres protected.
But longstanding bipartisan cooperation on land conservation has hit a wall in recent sessions of Congress. For example, despite bipartisan support for protecting Colorado’s Browns Canyon, Congress failed for 23 years to pass 13 separate bills to protect the landscape. It was eventually protected by President Obama in 2014.
Many iconic American places still need protection, and local communities are working with their elected officials to turn this into a reality.
National Monuments and the Antiquities Act
For more than a century, presidents of both parties have used their authority under the Antiquities Act to protect lands as national monuments. President Theodore Roosevelt, for example, used the Antiquities Act to permanently protect the Grand Canyon. This tool has become increasingly more essential in an age of congressional inaction.
There are already over 100 existing national monuments, which ensure recreational access to outdoor spaces that may have otherwise been threatened by new development. Monument designations allow backpackers, campers, bikers, anglers, and hunters to continue to enjoy access to beautiful, healthy outdoor spaces.
For example, when the Rio Grande River and the surrounding lands were threatened, a coalition of anglers and outdoor enthusiasts worked for many years to preserve the region’s outdoor recreation opportunities. After Congress failed to act, President Obama designated Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, permanently protecting the threatened landscape.
President Barack Obama has designated several other Western landscapes as national monuments, including the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument in New Mexico and Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River in Colorado.
We need to protect places that reflect America
America is a diverse and varied country, and our protected areas should reflect that reality. Progress has been made in updating our system of protected lands and places to reflect the diversity of our country, such as the newly designated Pullman National Monument in Chicago’s South Side celebrating the nation’s first African American labor union.
But, much more work needs to be done.
Here are some key facts about protected public lands
- Public opinion research shows broad support for protected public lands. In fact, 96 percent of Westerners support protecting and conserving natural areas for future generations and 80 percent of Westerners believe that future presidents should continue protecting public lands as national monuments.
- National monument designation proclamations acknowledge “existing rights,” including oil and gas leases, mining claims, livestock grazing, and state fish and wildlife management.
- Monument designation is often beneficial to military operations staged on the protected area. A case study in Arizona found that “the designation of federal lands under [military training routes]…can enhance the long-term viability of a military installation while protecting other important natural, ecological, social, and recreational values.”
- National monuments are a unique opportunity to stimulate Western economies. View our study of the economic impacts of the Missouri River Breaks National Monument and this economic analysis of the benefits of 17 monuments throughout the West for more information.