Potential New National Monuments Biden Should Establish

Sunrise on Sierra Nevada. The proposed Range of Light National Monument would connect Kings Canyon-Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. Photo George Wuerthner

Biden and Haaland’s Opportunity to Further Conservation

President Biden and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland could go down in history if they created additional National Monuments. Although Biden has created or enlarged seven National Monuments by executive proclamation so far in his Presidency, numerous other public lands should be given protection before the November election.

WHY NATIONAL MONUMENTS

Unlike National Parks, which Congress may designate, National Monuments can be established by Presidential declaration using the 1906 Antiquities Act, although Congress can also create National Monuments.

The Antiquity Act gave the President broad authority to declare a National Monument to protect “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.” National Monuments are designed to preserve biological, geological, scenic, cultural, and historical values. Often, a National Monument protects one or more of the above values.

Congress created the Antiquities Act during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. Since its enactment, more than 160 National Monuments have been created under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

 

 

Many of these National Monuments were later given National Park status by Congress. The National Monuments later designated as national parks are the Olympic, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Gates of the Arctic, Katmai, Kobuk Valley, Arches, Zion, Joshua Tree, Lassen, and Death Valley.

Although the National Park Service manages most National Monuments, other federal agencies also administer some well-known areas. For instance, the BLM manages the Upper Missouri River Breaks, Bears Ears, Escalante-Grand Staircase, Carrizo Plain, and Basin and Range. The Fish and Wildlife Service operates the Hanford Reach and Yukon Flats. The Forest Service oversees the Newberry Crater,  Mount St Helens Volcanic, San Gabrial Mountains, Misty Fiord, Admiralty Island, and Giant Sequoia.

Admiralty Island National Monument, Alaska is managed by the Forest Service. Photo George Wuerthner

Generally, a National Monument should be the smallest size needed to protect its values. In recent years, the size of protected landscapes has often increased. For instance, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in 2014 by 261.3 million acres and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2016 by 283.4 million acres.

Local opposition to National Monument designation can often arise, which has limited the Presidential authority to establish new National Monuments in several states.

After the creation of the Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943 (now Grand Teton National Park), the Wyoming Congressional delegation succeeded in passing legislation requiring congressional authorization for extensions or establishment of monuments in Wyoming. Similarly, any withdrawals in Alaska exceeding 5,000 acres are subject to Congressional approval.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming response to National Monument designation is generally favorable. As I wrote in Sierra Magazine, people hate National Monuments until they don’t.

Paper birch in Katahdin Woods and Waters NM Maine. Photo George Wuerthner

Although National Monuments are usually created on public lands, the law does allow for the donation of private lands, such as when Roxanne Quimby contributed land she owned in Maine to create the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

National Monuments generally protect designated lands, but the specific management varies from monument to monument.

For example, livestock grazing, hunting, mining, oil and gas development, and logging are among the resource extraction typically permitted on public lands but can be restricted or precluded upon national monument designation. However, in many cases, ongoing uses like livestock grazing, hunting, and sometimes commercial logging may still occur.

PRESERVING BIODIVERSITY AND OTHER VALUES

National Monuments can preserve biodiversity, wildlands, scenic values, and cultural attributes and tackle climate change. United Nations’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that three-fourths of the planet’s lands and two-thirds of its marine environments have been “significantly altered” by human activity.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. Over 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species have been driven to extinction since the 16th century.

Contrary to myth, National Monuments are well-supported among Westerners. According to a Colorado College poll, 70-80 percent of Western residents support protecting wildlife, safeguarding drinking water, and other measures.

Many advocates of National Monument note that protecting these lands also has economic benefits.

However, preserving wildlands, evolutionary processes, and wildlife habitats is the most significant benefit of creating a national monument, even if it can not be valued in dollars.

SELECT NATIONAL MONUMENT PROPOSALS

Middle Fork Kings River in proposed Range of Light National Monument. Photo George Wuerthner

Proposed Range of Light National Monument, California

The proposed Range of Light National Monument is the most exciting proposal yet to be designated. Unite the Parks is the local organization advocating for the monument.

The monument would encompass 1.4 million acres connecting Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon Sequoia National Park. Currently, about half of the landscape is designated wilderness.

 Adding these lands to the other existing national parks would create a 3.4 million-acre protected wildlands landscape.

Legislation to establish the National Monument was introduced into Congress and would transfer management authority from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to the National Park Service.

The proposed monument and adjacent National Parks contain half of California’s native plant species; more than 400 are found nowhere else on Earth. This includes 26 species of conifers and the Giant Sequoia. In addition, 93 at-risk species live in the area, 12 of which are on the endangered species list, such as the wolf, Sierra Nevada red fox, the Pacific fisher, California tiger salamander, Yosemite toad, foothill yellowed legged frog,  and the Great Gray Owl.

Recently wolves have established themselves in the Southern Sierra Nevada. Photo George Wuerthner

Unlike most National Monument proposals, which avoid confronting or limiting existing resource extraction, the Range of Light National Monument would phase out livestock grazing, prohibit logging, and limit vehicles to existing roads.

Proposed Douglas Fir National Monument, Oregon

Old growth Douglas fir, Oregon Photo George Wuerthner

The proposed Douglas Fir National Monument would encompass approximately 700,000 acres of the upper North, Middle, and South Santiam watersheds on the western slope of the Cascades in Oregon. Due to rich volcanic soils, abundant rainfall, and a mild climate, this area supports some of the most giant trees in the country, dominated by old-growth Douglas Fir.

Douglas Fir is named after botanist David Douglas, who explored the western part of Oregon in the 1830s. Mature Douglas fir can reach 300 feet, and 10 feet in circumference. In addition, Douglas-fir can live for 1,000 years, earning the moniker “old growth” or “ancient” forest. Representative examples of these ancient forests can be found in and around the Middle Santiam Wilderness, Crabtree Valley, and Millennium Grove near Gordon Meadows within the proposed National Monument.

In addition to preserving some of the remaining and finest examples of old-growth forests, the proposed Douglas Fir National Monument will protect miles of rivers and pristine lakes.

Proposed Chuckwalla National Monument, California

Mecca Hills in proposed Chuckwalla National Monument. Photo George Wuerthner

The proposed 600,000-acre Chuckwalla National Monument lies east of Palm Springs. This protected landscape would connect Joshua Tree National Park and the Colorado River. It would include Box Canyon and Painted Canyon in the Mecca Hills and typical desert wildlife like big horn sheep, desert tortoises, and the Chuckwalla lizard, for which the proposed National Monument is named.

The proposal also calls for protecting another 17,000 acres of Joshua Tree National Park.

Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary California

Morro Rock and Bay, the northern reach of proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Photo George Wuerthner

The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would protect 134 miles of the Central California Coast from just south of Moro Bay to Gaviota north of Santa Barbara. It would border the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary on the south.

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council submitted the sanctuary nomination in July 2015. The NOAA has developed a draft proposal with several alternatives. The alternatives all endorse the Chumash tribe’s participation in management decisions.

Within this area, temperate waters from the north meet warmer southern currents, and seasonal upwelling of nutrient-rich waters along the California Current supporting a rich marine ecosystem. The area is recognized as a biological hotspot for birds, marine mammals, sea turtles, fishes, other marine organisms, and algae, like kelp.

The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would be the first new marine sanctuary since 1994. The primary purpose would be to preserve biodiversity.

Absolute prohibitions include no new exploration, development, or production of oil, gas, or minerals within the sanctuary; no new discharge of primary-treated sewage within the refuge; and no new site for disposal of harbor dredge material other than at sites already approved at the time of sanctuary designation. Examples of prohibited activities that can be permitted include activities causing seabed disturbance such as seafloor cables, certain discharges, beneficial reuse of clean harbor dredge material, or removing structures on the seabed, such as oil and gas platforms. With this proposed action, there are no proposed commercial fishing regulations or the speed or routing of vessels, so these will contnue to be unregulated. 

Expansion of San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, California

Mount San Antonio, San Gabriel Mountains, Angeles NF, California. Photo George Wuerthner

In 2016, President Obama created the 346,177-acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The success and popular support for the National Monument have led to a proposal to expand the existing national monument by 109,000 acres.

The existing National Monument includes four wilderness areas– Magic MountainPleasant View RidgeSan Gabriel, and Sheep Mountain.

The proposed National Monument has some of the highest biodiversity of any public land in the United States. It contains an astonishing 53 Forest Service Sensitive Plants and 300 endemic California plants.

More than 18 million people live within 90 miles of the National Monument. The San Gabriel Mountains provide 70% of the open space in Los Angeles County. Not surprisingly, the National Monument is popular for recreation.

Proposed Great Bend of the Gila, Arizona

Saguaro Cactus, Arizona. Photo George Wuerthner

The Gila River cuts across Arizona to drain into the Colorado River. West of Phoenix, the Great Bend of the Gila National Monument would protect a slice of the Sonoran Desert.

The proposed National Monument includes wildlife such as the Sonoran desert tortoise, Desert Bighorn sheep, Gila monster, mule deer, javelina, Kit fox, Ringtail cat, Kangaroo rat, and Mojave rattlesnake.

Proposed Dolores Canyon National Monument, Colorado

Dolores River Canyon, Colorado. Photo George Wuerthner

The Dolores River begins in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado and joins the Colorado River near the Utah border. The river has cut a dramatic canyon through sandstone and slickrock.

The proposed monument spans Colorado’s most biodiverse stretch of unprotected public lands. It would protect native fish species of concern’ (roundtail chub, flannelmouth sucker, and bluehead sucker), rare plant communities, and iconic game species like desert bighorn sheep.

Proposed Mimbres Peak National Monument, New Mexico

Yucca frames Florida Mountains New Mexico. Photo George Wuerthner

The proposed Mimbres Peak National Monument in southwest New Mexico would protect 245,000 acres of the Chihuahuan Desert, the most biologically diverse desert in the Western Hemisphere. The monument would straddle I-10 and include four major mountain ranges: Cookes Range, Good Sight Mountains, Florida Mountains, and Tres Hermana Range.

The area contains pronghorn, quail, fox, mountain lion, mule deer, javelina, coyote, and badger. Recorded sightings of Northern Aplomado Falcons and Long-Billed Curlews are known in the area. Vegetation includes creosote bush, honey mesquite, prickly pear, and yucca. Higher elevations contain piñon-juniper woodlands.

The rugged Florida Mountains contain Florida Peak (7,295 ft elevation), which is the range’s highest point. Rising over 3,000 feet above the surrounding flatlands, the Florida Mountains hold numerous springs and over 500 miles of ephemeral streams.

Proposed Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument, Oregon

Leslie Gulch, Oregon. Photo George Wuerthner

The Owyhee Canyonlands lie along Oregon’s eastern border and encompass several million acres of rugged volcanic landscapes. They are home to more than 200 species of fish and wildlife, including the imperiled greater sage-grouse, golden eagle, pronghorn, California bighorn sheep, and redband trout. More than 110 bird species migrate annually through the region.

Senator Wyden has introduced the Malheur Community Empowerment Act, which would designate 1.1 million acres as wilderness, including over 400,000 acres in the remote Trout Creek Mountains. Of course, like many political compromises, the bill provides numerous “goodies” to the local livestock industry and other commercial interests. Nevertheless, 1.1 million acres of new wilderness is worthy of support.

Recently, to protect the Owyhee Country, the BLM announced a new management plan to protect 417,190 acres of “Lands with Wilderness Characteristics” for their wilderness values, protecting these public lands from development.

Proposed Kwatsan National Monument, California

Picacho Peak, California Photo George Wuerthner

The proposed Kwatsan National Monument would protect 390,000 acres of the California desert with its eastern boundary, the Colorado River on the Arizona-California border. The Fort Yuma Quechan Tribe has nominated the area for protection under the Antiquities Act.

The proposal would connect the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument with the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument. It would include the Indian Pass Area of Critical Environmental Concern, Singer Geoglyphs, and Picacho Peak Wilderness, among other features. 

Proposed Medicine Lake Highlands National Monument, California

Medicine Lake, Modoc NF, CA. Photo George Wuerthner

The Medicine Lake Highlands is an exceptional example of a “shield volcano,” which differs from more widely known Strato Volcanos like Mount Shasta. As the headwaters aquifer collection site for the Fall River, the highlands help ensure clean water for much of northern California. The proposal includes Medicine Lake, the Fall River Springs recharge basin, and the state’s most extensive spring system. It sustains a world-class trout fishery before it flows into Shasta Lake Reservoir and the Sacramento River.

Proposed Sutton Mountain National Monument, Oregon

Juniper on Sutton Mountain. Photo George Wuerthner

Sutton Mountain is located along the John Day River near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Sutton Mountain features one of Oregon’s richest concentrations of geological and paleontological resources, preserving a staggering 50 million years of geologic activity, prehistoric fossils, and colorful layers of ancient lakebed sediments, volcanic ash, and basalt. Bridge Creek supports steelhead, while the uplands are home to elk, pronghorn, and mule deer.

In November 2021, Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden introduced the Sutton Mountain and Painted Hills Area Wildfire Resiliency Preservation and Economic Enhancement Act to establish Sutton Mountain National Monument, a visionary proposal to protect and connect 66,000 acres of public lands in the John Day River country.

 

Comments

  1. Anotherview Avatar
    Anotherview

    These all sound great, but unlikely to all be designated. Given the political capital available, how would they be ranked in order of priority?

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Not quite the same topic, but I just had to share. See what preservation can do!:

    https://www.thecooldown.com/outdoors/frosted-elfin-caterpillar-habitat-restoration/

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