In 1906, the Antiquities Act, or the National Monuments Act, was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was an avid conservationist and a naturalist, concerned with preserving historic ruins and treasured natural landscapes. The act was put in place to protect ancient burial grounds that were at risk of being destroyed by curious individuals who were exploring the west during the expansion of the United States. Since the act was passed in 1906, it has been used to designate 157 monuments, some of which have since been incorporated into existing monuments or national parks. Currently, there are 129 established national monuments. These monuments include: The Effigy Mounds located in Iowa, The Aztec Ruins in New Mexico, Bear Ears Monument in Utah, and The Grand Staircase Escalante, also located in Utah.
The Grand Staircase Escalante Monument
The Grand Staircase Escalante monument currently protects 1,880,461 acres of land and showcases sedimentary erosion. The monument is home to over 300 species of animals, including mammals and amphibians. Among the most recognized species are the desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, mule deer, the tiger salamander, the peregrine falcon and the desert tortoise which has lived on Earth for 67 million years. The endangered California condor was introduced to the area in 1987 to save the species from extinction when there were only 22 left in the world, due to use of pesticides. Now, there are 300 California condors residing within the monument and throughout Arizona. Aside from fauna, the monument is home to many species of vegetation and flora as well. These include yucca, rabbitbrush, dwarf phlox and pinyon pines. Some of the pinyon pines located on the Grand Staircase are an impressive 1000 years old.
Review of the National Monuments
Following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, an executive order was put in place to review 27 of the 157 national monuments. The amount of acreage available for the national monuments is one aspect of the National Monuments Act being placed under review. If the acreage allowed for preserving these monuments is reduced, it will place the monuments under threat of being destroyed by mining or drilling procedures, according to David Harmon, the co-editor of The Antiquities Act: A Century of American Archaeology, Historic Preservation, and Nature Conservation.
President Trump placed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in charge of inspecting the 27 monuments. Although Zinke has finished inspection and given information to President Trump in a memo that has been leaked, the fate of the monuments is still unclear, and the White House has been conspicuously quiet about plans to follow through on Zinke’s recommendations. However, it is known that out of the 27 monuments still under review, one appears set to change. Bear Ears National Monument located in Utah has been set to shrink in size.
Bear Ears National Monument
Bear Ears National Monument was declared a national monument in 2016 when President Barack Obama still held office. This large national monument holds 1.35 million acres of land and is home to the largest collection of tribal artifacts. Bear Ears also protects much of Utah’s famous red rock and cliffs. Following the decision to shrink Bear Ears National Monument, local tribes who petitioned for the protection and establishment of the monument fromPresident Obama have expressed concern over the reduction. This monument offers insight to the rich historical past of the Puebloans who lived in the area 750 to 2500 years ago. Reduction to the monument’s acreage will reduce protection to the area, making it susceptible to damage from drilling and mining and loss of culture. Bear Ears National Monument is also home to many different species of plants and animals, including 15 different species of bats, elk, the mesa verde nightsnake, and 1,000 different plant species.
In addition to reducing the acreage from several monuments, Zinke signed an order on September 15th increasing recreational hunting and fishing. The order claims to aim at “preserving and conserving” wildlife as well as increasing public access. Zinke states that with the increase of hunting and fishing, more people would be able to enjoy the national monuments by participating inoutdoor activities. Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior at The Center for American Progress and The Wilderness Society dismissed the order as not benefiting conservation because some of the national monuments had already allowed hunting and fishing in some areas. Lee-Ashley believes this order is a distraction from the acreage of the monuments being reduced.
Environmental and Conservation Issues
Although the monuments currently are not in danger of disappearing completely, reducing acreage along with increasing recreational hunting leave the monuments at risk. Mining and drilling are practices that create enormous amounts of waste. This can endanger the preserved land set aside for wildlife and reduce conservation efforts to preserve landscapes. Mining and and drilling efforts have also wreaked havoc on the environment with risks of polluting surrounding waters in the process.
We must continue to fight for the preservation of the National Monuments as they stand for the conservation and preservation of wildlife and picturesque landscapes.