Obama creates, expands national monuments

Obama creates, expands national monuments

President Obama created and expanded more national monuments Thursday to honor the history of the fight for civil rights and to protect important landscapes in the West.

The national monument designations, coming about a week before Obama leaves office, further add to the aggressive conservation agenda the president has pursued throughout his eight years in office, fueled by unilateral land and water protections through the Antiquities Act.

Obama has now used the Antiquities Act in more instances than any of his predecessors. He already exceeded the land and water acreage of his successors before Thursday evening's announcement.

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Three of the monuments announced Thursday celebrate civil rights fights, with Obama protecting a church in Alabama key to the civil rights era of the 1960s, the sites of a violent attack on a bus in 1961 and areas in coastal South Carolina that tell important stories of post-Civil War reconstruction.

“These monuments preserve the vibrant history of the Reconstruction Era and its role in redefining freedom. They tell the important stories of the citizens who helped launch the civil rights movement in Birmingham and the Freedom Riders whose bravery raised national awareness of segregation and violence,” Obama said of the civil rights monuments in a statement.

“These stories are part of our shared history."

Obama also expanded the existing California Coastal National Monument by 6,230 acres and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and California by about 47,000 acres.

The natural resources monument expansions, Obama said, “will help ensure that more of our country’s history will be preserved and celebrated, and that more of our outdoors will be protected for all to experience and enjoy.”

Obama issued a presidential memorandum directing agencies that oversee public land and water to consider diversity and inclusion in how the resources are managed.

Presidents have a history of making major national monument decisions in their final weeks in office.

Last month, Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, angering all of the statewide and congressional representatives in the Beehive State.

Anger over that monument and others has some congressional Republicans planning to try to repeal or significantly restrict the Antiquities Act after President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE takes office.

But civil rights advocates and conservationists applauded Obama’s monument designations on Thursday.

“The example set by this administration and the best practices laid out in the presidential memorandum have set the bar high for future administrations,” said Shantha Ready Alonso, executive director of Creation Justice Ministries. “It is important to us that the new Trump administration upholds these monument designations and prioritizes engaging diverse stakeholders.”

Dan Smuts, senior director for the Pacific region at the Wilderness Society, said the expansions “are an investment in our environment and an acknowledgement that healthy communities need access to nature and outdoor activity.”

Democrats representing the affected areas had pressed Obama to expand the monuments.

“With this expansion, the North Coast's coastal economy, environment, and unique plant and animal life can be enjoyed for generations to come,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said of the coastal monument.