Thursday, December 29, 2016

Desert Monuments Anchor a Legacy as Future Looks Uncertain

President Obama designated two new desert monuments yesterday - Gold Butte in Nevada, and Bears Ears in Utah - barring unnecessary destruction on 1.65 million acres of public lands and preserving these landscapes of significance for recreation opportunities, cultural heritage, and wildlife.  The President's proclamation adds to several other desert monuments he has designated, including: Mojave Trails, Sand-to-Snow, and Castle Mountains in California, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, and Basin and Range in Nevada.  (For an excellent resource on things to see and how to get around Gold Butte in Nevada, check out the birdandhike website.)

Petroglyphs in Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada. Photo from Department of Interior.

Conservation designations are a smart move as we find ourselves in the midst of a wildlife extinction crisis driven largely by habitat loss.  Biologist Edward Wilson has even proposed that a far more aggressive conservation effort is needed than the current pace of occasional monument designations.  But the political leadership coming into force next year on the coattails of President-elect Trump are gearing up to undermine the conservation gains we have made, and weaken the institutions that manage these lands for all of us.  

Within hours of Obama's designation of Bears Ears National Monument, Utah's Attorney General announced that he would sue the President over the monument.  Before Gold Butte was designated, Nevada lawmakers rekindled efforts to transfer at least 7.3 million acres of public lands managed by the Federal government to state control, where history has shown would almost certainly lead to increased destruction by extractive industry or other corrupt uses.  Other Republican lawmakers are preparing to mount attacks on the Antiquities Act, the very law that both Republic and Democratic presidents alike have used to protect amazing American wildlands.

After the next four years, we may be facing a new conservation landscape.  In the meantime,there will be plenty of opportunities to speak up and defend our wildlands.  Every voice will matter.

Gold Butte National Monument.  Photo from Friends of Gold Butte.

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