You’ve probably heard more about national monuments in the past few months than ever before. What are they and why do they matter?
In April, President Trump issued an executive order requesting the Department of the Interior to review 27 national monuments. Right now, the Department of the Interior, headed by Secretary Ryan Zinke, is undertaking an unprecedented review of over 11 million acres of national monument lands established by presidents from both parties since 1996. The order asks the Department of the Interior to recommend whether those national monuments should be reduced, resized or rescinded, or should continue to be protected as monuments.
As Americans we collectively own our public lands and have a right to use them. It’s an idea that has shaped our nation, transcended party lines and provided endless opportunity for outdoor pursuits. We, as part of the outdoor community, are concerned this review could challenge the integrity of our public lands, lands that have enjoyed more than a century of bipartisan support and stewardship.
Now is the time to stand up for these places—places that help us live a life outdoors. A great way to get started is to learn more about what national monuments are, why they matter and how you can get engaged. This is a crash-course on what you need to know about monuments and their place in public lands.
What is a national monument?
A national monument is an area that has natural, cultural or historical significance and has been permanently protected by Congress or the president. Places as diverse as the rugged, archaeologically rich Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado and the iconic Statue of Liberty in New York have been protected by national monument designation. There are a total of 129 monuments nationwide in 31 states.
How are national monuments different than national parks?
A national monument is designated because of historical, cultural or scientific interest. National parks, on the other hand, are protected because they are scenic, inspirational or educational or have recreational value. Generally Congress designates national parks while the president, through use of the Antiquities Act, establishes national monuments.
There are other differences too. National monuments may be managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Defense or Bureau of Land Management. All national parks are overseen by the National Park Service. National monuments are usually smaller in size and require only one item of cultural or historical interest, while national parks designated today are at least 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) in size and need a variety of items of interest.
Many of our revered national parks, such as Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley, Acadia, Olympic, Joshua Tree and others, started out as national monuments.
Why does this matter now?
The national monument review involves a request to hear from the public. We are marching toward a few fast-approaching deadlines:
- May 26th: The comment period for Bears Ears National Monument ended.
- June 12th: Comments are open again for Bears Ears through mid-July.
- July 10th: The public call for comment on the remaining 26 national monuments ends.
- Late August: Secretary Zinke makes a recommendation to President Trump on the rest of the reviewed monuments.
Which national monuments are under review?
The order applies to monuments created after January 1, 1996 that are at least 100,000 acres in size. There are 27 in total. All but one are located in the western U.S.:
- Basin and Range, Nevada
- Bears Ears, Utah
- Berryessa Snow Mountain, California
- Canyons of the Ancients, Colorado
- Carrizo Plain, California
- Cascade Siskiyou, Oregon
- Craters of the Moon, Idaho
- Giant Sequoia, California
- Gold Butte, Nevada
- Grand Canyon-Parashant, Arizona
- Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah
- Hanford Reach, Washington
- Ironwood Forest, Arizona
- Mojave Trails, California
- Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, New Mexico
- Rio Grande del Norte, New Mexico
- Sand to Snow, California
- San Gabriel Mountains, California
- Sonoran Desert, Arizona
- Upper Missouri River Breaks, Montana
- Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona
- Katahadin Woods and Waters, Maine
- Marianas Trench, Pacific Ocean
- Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Atlantic Ocean
- Pacific Remote Islands, Pacific Ocean
- Papahanaumokuakea, Hawaii/Pacific Ocean
- Rose Atoll, American Samoa/Pacific Ocean
What does this mean for me?
The review itself is precedent setting. No president has ever asked for such a wide-ranging reconsideration of past presidents’ monument designations. And the recommendations from Secretary Zinke could set a precedent for rolling back protection of millions of acres of public lands—places we all enjoy.
National monuments are an important part of our public lands. When a national monument is designated, it generally ensures you and future generations can do the following:
- Camp and backpack
- Hike and bike
- Hunt and fish
- Raft and boat
- Horseback ride
- Ride motorized vehicles on designated roads.
What’s more, most public and commercial activities continue to operate on designated national monuments. Previously existing oil and gas leases, private property access, valid mining claims and rights-of-way for roads and utility infrastructure are all still allowed.
What is REI doing?
During the monument review period, we will be reaching out to members, employees and nonprofit partners for their points of view. We will raise our voice through constructive public comment during this review period. We will be using our blog and social media to explain our point of view to our community and share how we all can get involved.
To make this easy, we have created an online portal (UnitedForPublicLands.com) which sends comments directly to the Department of the Interior. It is important that the department hears from the millions of people that spend time in our public lands each year, from those who work in the outdoors and from the people who believe a life outdoors is a life well lived.
For the long term, we are engaging directly with partners and our elected officials from both parties, as we have for decades, to create access to the outdoors and protect outdoor places. We’re working across the outdoor industry to ensure that our collective passion for public lands and their full economic and societal value to our nation and to our local communities is clear. You can expect to hear us regularly speak up on behalf of the co-op in support of these lands.
Earlier this year, more than 200 CEOs from across the outdoor industry articulated their joint intent to defend our public lands through this letter outlining why our public lands are vital to living a life outdoors.
Who else is working on this?
Many of our partners are working to maintain the integrity of the Antiquities Act and the very places this act has afforded protections to over the past 100 years. Those partners include The Wilderness Society, Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Outdoor Alliance, IMBA, Access Fund, American Alpine Club, American White Water, PeopleforBikes, National Park Consecration Association, Audubon, PEW, NRDC, Conservation Lands Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association and many others.
How can I get involved?
In addition to preserving recreational opportunities, monument designations also preserve historically, culturally and environmentally important places. As stewards of these public lands, we all have the right and responsibility to share our points of view with Secretary Zinke while he considers the future of not only our current public lands, but the process for future protections.
We have created an easy way for everyone to share their perspectives. Public lands mean something different to each of us, and we want to make sure the secretary hears constructive conversation and personal stories from our community.
- Share your story with Department of the Interior about your personal tie to these national monuments and their value to this country at UnitedForPublicLands.com
- Track the topic on the Co-op Journal and through REI social media channels (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram).
- Share this information with friends and family and encourage them to share their stories of their favorite monuments.
- Visit a national monument near you.