Our national monuments could disappear if we don't act now
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In 1906, Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, the legendary conservationist, signed into law the Antiquities Act, which gave the president of the United States the authority to designate new public lands and waters — specifically, new national monuments. 

The act has since been used as an important tool used by other presidents to preserve our country’s most special places, including the Grand Canyon, New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Colorado's Canyons of the Ancients. The act protects the sites, telling unique, diverse stories of significant people and extraordinary events in American history. The Cèsar E. Chàvez National Monument, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument and Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument are among them.  

But the future and integrity of how our nation protects our public lands and waters is under unprecedented attack. 

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In April, President Trump signed an executive order taking aim at the 111-year history of the law. As part of the executive order, the Department of the Interior will review the status of every national monument designated since 1996. As a result of this review, these cultural and natural treasures could be significantly reduced or even eliminated, and the Antiquities Act itself could be severely limited if the White House has its way.

 

The elimination or reduction of this vital law would be a blow to the communities who spent decades advocating for special protections for these lands. And it would silence the voices of the next generation of stewards and people who want their children to see some of the world’s most iconic places.

Polls have consistently shown that an overwhelming number of voters on both sides of the aisle support the preservation and open access of America’s public lands. But taking away these protections will impact some communities more than others.

In particular, the decimation of the Antiquities Act would negatively impact Americans of color and marginalized communities. A significant number of those national monuments designated since 1996 have helped paint a more diverse, inclusive picture of America’s past. These actions have resulted in increased interest among people of color in the health and vitality of our nation’s monuments, parks, historic landmarks and other public lands. A 2016 New America poll found that 93 percent of voters of color said it was important for the next president to continue a commitment of protecting public lands and the diverse histories, cultures, and experiences they represent.

Unfortunately, this threat to our national monuments hasn’t been at the forefront of the national conversation. With intense media focus on the Trump administration’s sweeping national agenda and various scandals, this dire change could slip through unnoticed.

Some groups are fighting back. 

The Next 100 Coalition is made up of diverse leaders from civil rights, environmental justice, conservation and community organizations working to ensure the visibility of and access for people of color in our public lands.

As part of this mission, the coalition launched the campaign “Defend Our Monuments” — a day of action to demonstrate our support for the national monuments under attack. It is our way of letting the administration know that these special places are important to a broad, diverse swath of our population and deserve protection for generations to come. 

Our coalition will continue to push to secure the current boundaries of these national monuments leading up to the Aug. 24 deadline for the Department of Interior review. We will also promote greater public engagement in the management of these sites, particularly from traditionally marginalized communities whose history, culture and experiences are reflected in them. 

As Teddy Roosevelt said, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” 

Our coalition believes all people deserve an opportunity to enjoy the irreplaceable majesty of our natural and cultural treasures. We must stand to protect diverse, inclusive conservation and stewardship of our national treasures for the next 100 years and beyond. It is our collective responsibility to preserve our stories, histories and cultures for generations to come, as our ancestors preserved them for us. 

Without a public voice and a vigorous national conversation, our treasured national monuments could disappear forever. The time for action is now. 

Audrey Peterman is a member of the Next 100 Coalition, a group 50+ organizations committed to the establishment of a just and inclusive system of our nation’s parks and public lands. 


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