Guest opinion: Land advocacy groups respond to Executive Order

An Executive Order was signed by President Trump on Wednesday that will require a “review” of national parks and monuments that have been protected by presidents using executive action under the Antiquities Act since 1996. This review could result in parks and monuments being shrunk or completely losing their protections.  

In Colorado, this means that three national monuments are in the crosshairs: Browns Canyon near Salida (designated in 2015), Chimney Rock, near Pagosa Springs (designated in 2012), and Canyons of the Ancients, near Cortez (designated in 2000). The Río Grande del Norte National Monument (designated in 2013), in northern New Mexico, will also be under review.

Scott Braden, Wilderness and Public Lands Advocate at Conservation Colorado, responded to the Executive Order: “With this review, the Trump administration has launched an attack on Colorado’s heritage and the iconic public lands that are critical to our economy and way of life. The fact that the current administration and members of congress are attempting to overturn protections for our lands is deeply offensive to those of us who live in the Colorado and the West.”

The Antiquities Act was signed by republican President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 to safeguard and preserve federal lands and cultural and historical sites for all Americans to enjoy. President Trump’s action has the potential to undermine one of the nation’s most important conservation tools.

National parks, public lands and waters are a critical part of the nation’s economy – especially for rural and Western communities that benefit from the tourism, outdoor recreation and quality of life associated with healthy public lands. 

“The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, congressionally designated in 2000, is a stunning example of how a national park becomes a sustainable anchor and has enhanced the local community.” says Christine Canaly, Director of San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. “According to a national park report that has just been released, tourism to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve creates $28 million in economic benefits. The report also shows visitor spending supports 348 jobs in the local economy. Why is the President attacking a substantial economic driver in our local rural communities?”

According to the 2016 report, locally, most park visitor spending was for lodging (31.2 percent), followed by food and beverages (27.2 percent), gas and oil (11.7 percent), admissions and fees (10.2 percent), souvenirs and other expenses (9.7 percent), local transportation (7.4 percent) and camping fees (2.5 percent).

Nationally, the report shows $18.4 billion of direct spending by 331 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 318,000 jobs nationally; 271,544 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $34.9 billion.

“Americans care deeply for their national parks, public lands and waters” says Anna Vargas, Project Coordinator for Conejos Clean Water. “Any review of national monuments must incorporate the American public. National monument designations are community-driven initiatives, informed by public meetings and robust stakeholder outreach.”

“President Trump and Secretary of the Interior Zinke are obviously not thinking about protecting public lands for future generations. This looks like a giveaway to the oil and gas industry.” says Justin Garoutte, Director of Conejos Clean Water.

In a recent 2017 Conservation in the West poll conducted by Colorado College, 80 percent of western voters supported keeping protections for existing monuments in place while only 13 percent of western voters supported removing protections for existing monuments.


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