WASHINGTON (April 16, 2013) – This week, a diverse, bipartisan group of mayors, county commissioners and business owners are in Washington, DC to thank the Obama administration for designating national monuments in their communities and spread the word that monuments are an important boost to local economies. These individuals, from as far away as Washington State and California, came to remind people in the nation’s capital that monuments matter.
The new monuments had strong local input from the local communities, and many came after years of efforts to preserve these places. Despite this support, some in Congress are bent on dismantling the law that allowed designation of these areas – the Antiquities Act. At a hearing today of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, members of Congress considered several bills to make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for the president to use this tool to safeguard areas as natural treasures or cultural or historic landmarks.
“The dramatic disconnect between Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country could not be clearer,” said Michael Whiting, a Commissioner from Archuleta County, CO where Chimney Rock National Monument is located. “Dozens of elected officials and business leaders travelled to Washington because national monuments matter to our communities and to the millions of Americans we represent. Back in our hometowns, national monument designations have protected the places where American families love to relax and recreate, while generating tens of millions of dollars in economic growth and creating tens of thousands of jobs. Yet here in Washington, the same politicians who have been gridlocking Congress for years are trying to make it harder for other American communities to enjoy the same benefits.”
Established in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents -- from Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush -- to designate national monuments. Given that the 112th Congress was the first since World War II not to protect a single new acre of public land as a park, wilderness area or national monument, local communities are asking President Obama to protect the places they love.
“We have seen first-hand the enormous benefit the Antiquities Act can have on the cultural and economic health of a community. There are cases like ours in which waiting for Congress to act is not logistically feasible and could result in destruction of vitally important historic assets and natural resources,” said Hampton, Virginia Mayor Molly Ward, who testified about the economic benefits from Fort Monroe National Monument.
The fly-in demonstrates the increasingly diverse voices – small businesses, sportsmen, African American and Latino communities, veterans – are calling on Washington to do more to protect our shared public lands on the heels of one of the greatest land conservation achievement in Barack Obama’s presidency.
“The celebrations that we’ve seen in New Mexico, Washington State, Ohio, Delaware, and Maryland over the weeks following President Obama’s historic new monument designations are only going to continue as communities join ours in seeing new jobs and new opportunities arise from protecting our natural legacy,” said Gabe Vasquez, former Executive Director of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce de Las Cruces, who is in town to celebrate the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and advocate for the citizen-driven proposal to protect Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in southern New Mexico. “Now, the only question is whether Congress will get in the way or get on board.”
Unlike the nine national monuments designated by President Obama, the bills before the House Subcommittee today to strip power from the president to designate monuments s were introduced without local input and dialogue.
Background information on national monuments designated during President Obama’s first term:
Fort Monroe National Monument (Virginia): designated November 1, 2011
- After the monument was designated in 2011, annual visitation to the adjacent Casemate Museum has more than doubled. Special events have come to the area because it is a new national park site. For example, 12,000 people visited just for the three-day Tall Ships event.
- Fort Monroe National Monument was also recently selected for a television pilot that has started filming. This is expected to bring $50 million to the area.
Fort Ord National Monument (California): designated April 20, 2012
- Prior to the national monument designation, tens of thousands of people visited the public lands at Fort Ord each year, contributing $15-$17 million to the local economy annually. The BLM monument manager estimates a 20%-30% increase in visitation overall since the monument designation.
- With the production of a new monument trail brochure and the opening of a newly completed trailhead, there has been a 9% increase of visitation at one of the trailheads (Creekside Terrace) from 2012 vs. projected use in 2013.
Chimney Rock National Monument (Colorado): designated September 21, 2012
- Based on information from the U.S. Forest Service, Pagosa Springs Ranger Office, the anecdotal winter visitation to Chimney Rock when closed for tours has been double this year following the National Monument designation.
- Tours of Chimney Rock are booked solid with school groups of 100 children, every day through the end of school. The U.S. Forest Service and Chimney Rock Interpretive Association, who proved the tours, may be forced to turn some groups away due to volunteer capacity. Prior to the designation, only one or two groups of this size would come this early in the season.
César E. Chávez National Monument (California): designated October 8, 2012
- Park officials estimate that visitation has tripled since the monument was established.
- Students from the nearby César Chávez Elementary school and others now have expanded, in-person opportunities for learning of Chávez and the farm workers movement’s legacy, with the National Park Service as their guide.
National Monuments designated during President Obama’s administration:
· Fort Monroe National Monument (Virginia): designated November 1, 2011
· Fort Ord National Monument (California): designated April 20, 2012
· Chimney Rock National Monument (Colorado): designated September 21, 2012
· César E. Chávez National Monument (California): designated October 8, 2012
· Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument (Maryland): March 25, 2013
· Río Grande del Norte National Monument (New Mexico): designated March 25, 2013
· First State National Monument (Delaware and Pennsylvania): designated March 25, 2013
· Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (Ohio): designated March 25, 2013
· San Juan Islands National Monument (Washington): designated March 25, 2013