Why we like the Antiquities Act

(Read The Corps Network Thank You letter to President Obama and Secretary Jewell in response to the San Gabriel Mountains national monument designation).

What would it be like if Chimney Rock in Colorado, the ancestral home of the Pueblo People, was open to modern development? What if the Giant Sequoias of Northern California had no protection from lumber companies or wood poachers? What if Fossil Butte in Wyoming, one of the best paleontological records of aquatic life in North America, could be tapped by the fossil fuel industry? Fortunately, these places, and many other pristine landscapes and historical sites throughout the country, are protected as national monuments for all Americans to enjoy. Today, we can celebrate the designation of another national monument: the San Gabriel Mountains of California.

It is because of the Antiquities Act that all of our national monuments exist. Under the Antiquities Act, the president has the authority to protect “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” by declaring them national monuments. Nearly every president has used this legislation since it was created in 1906, but President Obama has been an especially strong champion of preserving places that are important to our country’s history and natural beauty. The designation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is Obama’s second use of the Antiquities Act this year (Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico was created in May) and his thirteenth use of the Act during his presidency. Thanks to President Obama, we can be certain that the integrity of nearly a dozen additional historically or scientific significant places will be safe for generations to come.

The San Gabriel Mountains are important for many reasons, but they are especially important because they lie within a 90 minute drive of over 15 million people. They provide the only large-scale open space available for many residents of Los Angeles County, and also provide LA with some 30 percent of its drinking water. Aditionally, the 340,000+ acres of wilderness are home to numerous rare and endangered species, including the California condor. 

With the designation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, there will be more recreational opportunities and increased access to nature for many minority communities. What if all children living in Los Angeles County today had the chance to discover the campgrounds and hundreds of miles of trails the San Gabriels offer? This could be a reality with the money and resources that accompany a national monument designation. Millions of Angeleños who otherwise might not have the opportunity to explore the peaks just beyond the city limits would be able to grow up with an understanding of, and appreciation for, nature and the importance of preserving our wild places.

Protecting our natural spaces is a win for outdoor enthusiasts, the tourism industry, recreation outfitters, and basically anyone who enjoys clean air and safe drinking water. It’s also a win for Service and Conservation Corps. There are billions of dollars-worth of backlogged maintenance projects on our public lands, but proclaiming a place a national monument means there will certainly be money to fix that location’s trails and bridges, stabilize stream banks, and build campsites. For the San Gabriel Mountains, the National Forest Foundation has already pledged $3 million in support of restoration projects.

Service and Conservation Corps in every state maintain our public lands in an efficient, high-quality and cost-effective manner. Through the process of making our parks and monuments safe and accessible, Corps train future land managers and environmental leaders. By using the Antiquities Act, President Obama addresses the goals of his administration’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative in a number of ways, including the Initiative’s goal to develop a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. When we give protections to our forests and mountains and waterways, we give our young people opportunities to explore the outdoors and explore rewarding careers in environmental stewardship.

Today we can feel fortunate for the Antiquities Act, but we should also recognize the importance of other policies that protect and restore America’s natural treasures. For example, we can also celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which provides critical funding for land and water conservation projects and hence helps fund Corps. When we support the use of the Antiquities Act, the Land Water Conservation Fund, and other legislation that expands protections for America’s natural, cultural and historic features, we support Corps and giving young people the education and job training to lead fulfilling lives and careers. So – thank you, President Obama for using your authority to recognize the significance of another American landmark and, in doing so, giving opportunities to our youth.