Celebrate National Park Week by protecting more parks

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Every April, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation celebrate National Park WeekThis year, as people in this country make a special effort to honor and visit the more than 400 national park sites from April 16 to 24, we must continue to grow our parks system to ensure that we are safeguarding the diverse cultures and history of our country, preserving more public lands and waters, and expanding equitable access to them. Simply put, we must protect more parks. 

For more than 100 years, national parks and other public lands and waters have been a huge part of our nation’s history. 

Many of the most iconic national parks–including Grand Canyon in Arizona, Olympic in Washington, Joshua Tree in California, Acadia in Maine, as well as a personal favorite Zion in Utah — were first protected as national monuments under the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents the authority to protect “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.” So far, 19 presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, have established or expanded 158 national monuments. 

Beyond coastlines, deserts, valleys and marine areas, national monuments can also ensure our parks better reflect and share the experiences of our country. Monuments like the César E. Chávez National Monument, the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, as well as the Stonewall National Monument were all designated under the Antiquities Act to help preserve history and tell the struggle for equality and fairness. 

The Biden-Harris administration launched the America the Beautiful initiative, setting our country’s first-ever national conservation goal of protecting 30 percent of our lands and waters in the country by 2030. Known as 30×30, this initiative is a crucial part of the administration’s plan to address climate change and the biodiversity crisis while making access to the outdoors more equitable. It is also an incredible opportunity to build an inclusive and resilient conservation legacy by championing locally led initiatives to protect places with cultural, historic and ecological resources before it is too late. And with less than eight years until 2030, we cannot waste a moment. 

Fortunately, there are two national monument proposals ready for the federal government to take action. 

Avi Kwa Ame in southern Nevada and Castner Range near El Paso, Texas both have significant ecological and cultural value as well as strong local support. Designating them as national monuments will protect these resources, ensuring they are not sold off to private corporations. 

Avi Kwa Ame has some of the most important biological, cultural and recreational resources in the Mojave Desert, including sacred Indigenous sites and biodiverse wildlife. The area is considered sacred by ten Yuman speaking tribes as well as the Hopi and Chemehuevi Paiute as it is tied to their creation, history and well-being. The local governments and chambers of commerce in communities nearby passed resolutions in support of monument designation, which is also supported by 70 percent of Nevadans

The communities in and around El Paso have worked to conserve Castner Range for more than half a century, which will expand outdoor access for the world’s largest bi-national community. Additionally, it is part of a distinct mountain chain home to several important wildlife and plant species. Permanent protections for Castner Range would also preserve significant geological, paleontological and archaeological features and a cultural history that dates back 10,000 years. 

As we proudly celebrating National Park Week, we must also echo the calls from local elected officials, Indigenous leaders, conservation groups, hunters, anglers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts and other advocates working to protect more parks. It is time for the Biden administration to accelerate the pace of conservation and make these sacred places our next national monuments.

Gene Karpinski is president of the environmental advocacy group League of Conservation Voters.

Tags climate Climate change Conservation Environment Gene Karpinski national parks Nature

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