Then

The forgotten history

Americans from coast to coast treasure our national monuments, parks, and forests. When you look at the beauty of our natural wonders, it’s easy to forget that for over 100 years conservation critics have opposed virtually every attempt to protect public lands for future generations.

Thankfully, America’s conservation leaders had the courage to protect our iconic lands in the face of intense hostility. If our national leaders had given in, the West’s backbone—from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon; Canyonlands to California’s redwoods—would have remained unprotected and open to the pressures of development and privatization.

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“We regard the passage of the act as a great blow struck at the prosperity of the towns of Bozeman and Virginia City.”

—The Helena Gazette

1872

 
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Yellowstone

National Park

Before its designation as the first national park, Yellowstone’s sole white settlers were homesteaders and itinerant trappers and hunters. Drawn by ample beaver, bison, and other large game, this cadre of sportsmen was the most vocal opposition to conservation measures.

The 1872 national park designation did little to quell discontent from locals. With scarce funding and resources, the newly created park staff could not adequately protect the expanse of Yellowstone from poaching. The first supervisor was not even offered a salary. Congress eventually allocated funding for building roads and creating a visitor infrastructure—and in doing so setting an example for scores of national parks to follow.

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TODAY

With its roaming bison, open expanses, and impressive geysers, Yellowstone brings in

3.5

Million visitors

6,662

Local jobs

$544

Million into economy

“Yellowstone is the oldest and the largest [national park]... I want to be as faithful to my grandchildren’s generation as Old Faithful has been to ours.”

—President Gerald Ford

1976

1897

“A fiendish and diabolical scheme... the fate of Arizona depends exclusively upon the development of her mineral resources.”

—The Williams Sun

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Grand Canyon

National Park

In the second half of the 19th century, commercial interests coalesced in opposition to efforts to protect the Grand Canyon: mining prospectors, cattle grazers, and railroads all eyeing tracts of land. The steady opposition to conservation efforts resulted in an arduous process on the way to permanent protection. The canyon first became a forest reserve, then a game preserve, and finally a national monument in 1908. The steady drumbeat of support ultimately resulted in the Grand Canyon National Park being established in 1919.

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TODAY

The Grand Canyon is perhaps the most iconic American landscape, bringing in

4.8

Million visitors

7,846

Local jobs

$711

Million into economy

1991

“Here, as we look over the south rim of the world's greatest natural wonder, we see Arizona skies, a kaleidoscope of beauty of the Grand Canyon, we see a place that has made even the most calloused observer gasp with awe.”

—President George H.W. Bush

“[We] would be fools to let a lot of foolish sentimentalists tie up the resources of the Olympic peninsula in order to preserve its scenery.”

—M.J. Carrigan, Seattle Tax Commissioner

1911

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Olympic

National Park

The Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle is home to some of the largest specimens of Douglas fir and red cedar trees in the country—which is why logging companies voraciously fought any efforts to protect the swath of mountainous forest.

After President Theodore Roosevelt protected the peninsula as a national monument in 1909, outrage ensued with logging companies lashing out at timber restrictions. But opposition faded as public perception slowly recognized the threat logging posed to wildlife and old growth forest. In 1938, the area became Olympic National Park.

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TODAY

Olympic National Park stretches from snowy mountains to the Pacific coast, each year bringing in:

3.2

Million visitors

3,592

Local jobs

$366

Million into economy

2014

“Every town around... benefits from having this world-heritage park in our midst.”

—Diane Schostak, Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau

“[This designation] is a monstrous crime against development and advancement. It leads one to wonder if Washington has gone crazy through catering to conservation faddists.”

—The Alaska Daily Empire

1924

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Glacier Bay

National Park and Preserve

The campaign to protect Glacier Bay began in the 1920s. At the time, gold mining was common in the area, and homesteaders drawn by the promise of wealth vehemently opposed rumors of a national monument designation.

Through tireless advocacy by Dr. William Cooper and the Ecological Society of America, in 1925 land conservation supporters harvested the fruits of their labor: a national monument designation from President Calvin Coolidge. Fifty five years later, the monument was upgraded to a national park, finishing a marathon journey of conservation efforts spanning much of the twentieth century.

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TODAY

Visitors travel from around the world to survey the broad expanse of Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, bringing in

500,700

Visitors

1,979

Local jobs

$160

Million into economy

“The fact is, Glacier Bay National Park fuels the economy of Gustavus.... You can wrestle over issues that aren’t that big, but are emotional, or you can look at the big picture.”

—Wayne Howell, former Vice Mayor of Gustavus, Alaska

2006

1962

“All commercial use and business activity would be forever banned and nearly all of Southern Utah’s growth would be forever stunted.”

—Senator Wallace F. Bennett

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Canyonlands

National Park

Legislation to protect Canyonlands was first proposed by Utah Senator Frank Moss in 1961, which immediately provoked the ire of Governor George Clyde and fellow Senator Wallace Bennett. Along with the petroleum industry, Bennett and Clyde feared that a park would harm mineral extraction and grazing, and they publicly opposed Senator Moss and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall’s proposal.

After three years—and several iterations of legislation—President Lyndon Johnson finally rewarded the Canyonlands coalition’s years of work by signing legislation to permanently protect Canyonlands National Park.

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TODAY

Canyonlands draws rafters, mountain bikers, campers, and hikers, bringing in

542,400

Visitors

477

Local jobs

$37

Million into economy

2014

“We owe a debt of gratitude to people, both elected officials and citizens, who recognized the value of Canyonlands and worked to create the park fifty years ago.”

—Senator Orrin Hatch

 

“A tree is a tree. How many more do you have to look at?”

—Ronald Reagan

1966

 
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Redwood

National Park

With technological advances in the timber industry, the harvesting of old-growth California redwoods increased dramatically around the turn of the 20th century. Land conservation proponents began a fifty-year campaign to protect the northern California giants but were often thwarted by an entrenched timber industry.

By 1964, a new study showed that only 750,000 acres of old-growth redwoods remained of the original 1.9 million, prompting President Lyndon Johnson to pressure Congress for protections. While the effort took another four years, logging companies eventually agreed to scale back harvesting, and Congress finally passed a national park designation in 1968.

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TODAY

The sequoias of Redwood are among the most iconic trees in America. The national park brings in

429,200

Visitors

428

Local jobs

$33

Million into economy

“From the dense stands of hardwoods in New England to the towering redwoods of California, America has been blessed with an abundance of forestland.”

—President Ronald Reagan

1985

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Case studies

Despite the incontrovertible evidence that national parks and monuments are economic boons for local communities, prominient figures still repeat the same tired maxims about present-day conservation efforts.

Today’s opponents of national monuments are recycling the worn-out criticism that's been proven wrong by a century of conservation success.

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2013

“[By protecting this region] the Administration is using the Antiquities Act to not only circumvent Congress, but also forgo addressing the concerns of those who stand to be affected by this the most.”

—Representative Rob Bishop

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Rio Grande del Norte

National Monument

The Rio Grande del Norte spans the plains of New Mexico’s Taos Plateau, rising to an elevation of over 10,000 feet at the peak of Ute Mountain before plunging 800 feet down the Rio Grande Gorge to the river below. Driven by a desire to preserve the area’s recreational value, cultural resources, and traditional land uses, a broad coalition of conservationists, sportsmen, ranchers, the Taos Pueblo, and local businesses formed to support the permanent protection of the Rio Grande del Norte.

Legislation to conserve the region was first introduced in 2009, but languished in Congress for three sessions. In 2013 President Obama stepped up to permanently protect the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

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JUST ONE YEAR

after designation, Rio Grande del Norte already draws rafters and hikers looking to explore this unique cultural landscape, bringing in:

40%

Visitor increase

8.3%

Accommodations & food revenue increase

21%

Lodger's tax revenue increase

2014

“The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument has already become an important part of our community.... The Monument is one more thing we turn to in promoting Taos and Northern New Mexico as a first-rate outdoors and tourism destination.”

—Commissioner Larry Sanchez, Taos County, New Mexico

“[The proposal]... pandering to extremist environmental groups, will kill jobs, stifle development, permanently prevent mining and future grazing leases... in northern Arizona.”

—Representative Paul Gosar

2015

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Greater Grand Canyon

Proposed National Monument

The language of the opposition to this monument is eerily reminiscent of the arguments made over a century ago, when ranchers and railroad companies feared economic constriction after the protection of the Grand Canyon.

The greater Grand Canyon and its sensitive water resources, forests, wildlife, and cultural values are at risk from industrial development, including uranium mining. With strong leadership from local tribes, a long-running effort to gain more permanent protections for the canyons and open spaces surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park remains underway.

The proposed monument, as described in the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage Monument Act introduced in 2015 by Arizona Representative Raúl Grijalva, would make permanent the temporary ban on new uranium mining near the canyon—a withdrawal that had tremendous local, bipartisan support.

Unfortunately, some political interests continue to oppose common-sense protections for one of America’s crown jewels. Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain have both publicly opposed a national monument designation, and industrial interests eyeing the area’s uranium deposits are critical as well.

2015

“We’ve survived on the mineral extraction industry in this county. [I’ll fight the monument] so that we who live here 365 days a year can survive, not like those who just come to visit and then leave and enjoy the place that they live in.”

—Commissioner Bruce Adams, San Juan County, Utah

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Bears Ears

Proposed National Monument

The proposal is unprecedented, marking the first time that the call for a new national monument has come directly from Native American leaders.

The Bears Ears mesa—named for its distinctive twin plateaus—and the surrounding lands contain more than 100,000 archaeological sites. This living cultural landscape is plagued by vandalism and looming oil and gas exploration. The Utah legislature even called for the “full development” of much of the Bears Ears region in 2015.

After being overlooked in the Utah public lands planning process, an inter-tribal coalition—including six of the seven Utah Navajo Chapters and five Southwestern tribes—unveiled a proposal calling for the Bears Ears National Monument.

Despite the support of nearly 300 tribes nationwide, the Utah delegation has largely dismissed a potential monument. Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said that if the President were to designate a national monument at the request of the tribes, he would be “so disappointed and frustrated and I would use every muscle I have in the [House] Oversight Committee to get the administration to explain it.”

Some county commissioners, like Commissioner Bruce Adams, are echoing opponents from centuries past, contending that a designation would damage the economy, despite a century’s worth of evidence to the contrary.

“Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, [national parks and monuments] refect us at our best rather than our worst. Without them, millions of American lives... would have been poorer. The world would have been poorer.”

—Wallace Stegner

1983

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Time for action

For more than a century, the most vocal land conservation opponents have scarcely changed their message. Instead of well-informed debate, critics resort to a reactionary, anti-federal government message and a knee-jerk fear of economic stagnation—an argument that has been disproven time and time again by the economic successes of America’s public lands.

The final year of the Obama presidency coincides with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service—an idea which would not exist today if conservation opponents had prevailed a century ago.

With landscapes like Bears Ears and the Greater Grand Canyon still at risk of mining and development, President Obama has the opportunity to cement his conservation legacy for America’s next century of parks.

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