National monuments range from the Statue of Liberty to tracts of land and are designated by the President usually via the Antiquities Act. I was active in one of the last designations of a national monument proclaimed by President Obama. The community support was stunning to include local agencies, chambers of commerce, and local, regional and statewide leaders. The purpose of a national monument is to preserve and protect valuable resources that can range from archeological, historical, and/or scientific value. It is a public interest effort over private interest efforts.
This is where the conflict comes in with a concerted effort by those who do not support federal control over just about anything, and particularly land (to include marine national monuments) that may harbor commercially valuable resources such as timber, mining, oil and gas. Right-wing groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heritage Foundation actively work to dismantle the national monument effort, while conservation-minded groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club, support the national monument efforts. This debate demonstrates the battle between the liberty of big-business over the rights of the majority.
Politics aside, my concern over the rollback of national monument designations is the potential (and likely) loss of history, environment and open space — open space that does not include the scars of mining, logging, and drilling. I see the value of public lands an option for every American to enjoy — yes, the masses that pile into RVs, vans, and trucks packed with their tents and sleeping bags to take in nature’s magnificence. It’s healthy and essential to the well-being of the American people. Study after study shows the negative impact of nature deficits in our children and our society. Looking up at a dark sky with planets and stars in full, uninterrupted view, expands the imagination. Walking a trail through native forests allows one to touch upon the smells, the sounds, and the magic that dappled shade and light brings to the eye and the mind. Sitting on a shoreline with the rhythm of incoming waves, the air saline-rich, and scenic views that makes one wonder “would I fall off at the end of my vision,” and then contemplate the wonder of our existence. The experience of seeing ancient rock art and petroglyphs that may tell a story that would otherwise be forgotten, far outweighs the call for industry over preserved and protected lands and sea.
“Jobs!” that’s big industry’s word in a cry to dismantle national monuments. But as shown in recent news reports, the Department of Interior has deliberately removed all evidence that national monuments do create jobs in the hospitality, tourism and small business industries. The small town where I live is on the edge of a national monument and some of the most outstanding natural areas in the West. The thoroughfare highway that was closed for almost two years (due to a massive land slide) just reopened. Our small town is now swamped with tourists filling hotels, eating in family owned restaurants, and shopping in our mom and pop stores that line Main Street. A collective sigh of relief echoes from all of our small business enterprises. These businesses are sustainable and not boom-town industries that fade once mineral, timber and fossil fuel extraction is complete. These small businesses are the foundation of the American dream. And our nearby open lands and sea allow all of us to find wealth in our dreams and imagination — elements to a healthy society.