In 2015, you helped us speak up and gain protection for some of America’s most remarkable natural and cultural sites, from a whitewater rafting hotspot in Colorado to a monument in Hawaii that reminds us of the fragility and importance of civil rights.
Congress was a perilous place for conservation this past year, as we have worked to fend off attacks on the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a broader campaign to sell off public lands. But the national monuments listed below are proof positive that, with hard work, it is still possible to transcend politics and protect the spaces that matter to us.
Our newest national monuments range from a whitewater rafting hotspot in Colorado to a historic civil rights site in Hawaii
Buoyed by major support in their own backyards and nationwide—including comments, phone calls and social media action from Wilderness Society members—these places were all protected by President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act. This law has been used by almost every president to protect iconic landmarks. Many of America's most treasured national parks were first protected under this venerable act as national monuments, including Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Acadia and many more.
However, even in 2015, some in Congress tried to threaten and undermine this popular law. Let this list serve as a reminder both that, with your help, we can still accomplish great things for conservation, and that we must continue to defend our nation’s bedrock conservation laws.
Enjoy this stroll down (recent) memory lane and read which new monuments we could be celebrating in 2016:
Browns Canyon National Monument (Colorado)
Credit: Mason Cummings (top); Bob Wick (BLM), flickr (bottom).
Browns Canyon is an outdoor recreation hub along the Arkansas River, a mountainous expanse of granite canyons and whitewater rapids that is home to wildlife including black bears, bighorn sheep, elk and mountain lions. This is truly one of Colorado’s most treasured landscapes.
The Wilderness Society worked for decades to get Browns Canyon the permanent protection it deserved, but it was not always easy. The cause enjoyed strong support across the state but repeatedly ran into congressional gridlock. When it was clear this would happen yet again, leaders in Colorado and The Wilderness Society members began to ask President Obama to protect Browns Canyon as a national monument using the Antiquities Act. A 2014 poll showed that 77 percent of Coloradans supported this course of action, and in December, 700 people packed into a public meeting on Browns Canyon’s future, with most attendees supporting monument designation.
Finally, in July 2015, President Obama designated Browns Canyon as a national monument using the Antiquities Act. Browns Canyon’s new status helps safeguard the more than $55 million per year the area generates in economic activity for the local economy, as well as a wild iconic landscape that is simply invaluable.
Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument (California)
Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr (top); Jim Rose (bottom).
One of California’s lesser-known natural gems, the area known as Berryessa Snow Mountain was protected as a national monument by President Barack Obama in July 2015, the culmination of decades of hard work by The Wilderness Society, local communities and leaders throughout the state.
Berryessa Snow Mountain was a popular candidate for permanent protection for years, with local businesses, governing bodies, public meeting attendees and others backing the initiative. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) took up the cause as well. But despite major support, legislative progress was not forthcoming, so. The Wilderness Society and our members asked the White House to take action.
Protected by President Obama in July 2015, the new monument stretches from the region around Lake Berryessa across remote sections of Cache Creek north to Snow Mountain. It is renowned locally for its outdoor recreation opportunities; abundant wildlife like tule elk, mountain lions and bald eagles; and habitat ranging from lush oak woodland to clear creeks and fields of wildflowers. Monument designation protects all this and raises the region’s profile as a tourism destination, potentially boosting the local economy by up to $50 million over five years.
Basin and Range National Monument (Nevada)
Credit: Tyler Roemer, courtesy of Conservation Lands Foundation.
President Obama officially designated Basin and Range National Monument in July 2015 to protect natural and cultural treasures as well as a wealth of outdoor recreation opportunities just a few hours’ drive from Las Vegas.
And there was a lot to protect. The monument designation included two of the most pristine valleys in the broader, Great Basin region, which covers most of Nevada, as well as corridors connecting the surrounding mountain ranges. The area provides habitat for dozens of imperiled or exotic wildlife species, including greater sage-grouse, the rare pygmy rabbit, bighorn sheep, kit fox and a variety of bats. Plants in this vital ecosystem include ancient bristlecone and ponderosa pine and the White River catseye, a desert plant found only in Nevada. It should come as no surprise that Basin and Range is beloved by Nevadans and visitors alike who crave opportunities to hike, camp, hunt, bike and rock-climb on its rugged contours—or simply get away for some peace and quiet.
Pullman National Monument (Illinois)
Pullman National Monument, which comprises a neighborhood of the same name on Chicago’s South Side, commemorates several key moments in African American and labor history. Designed as a planned community for employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company, Pullman first became synonymous with the nascent labor movement in the 1890s, when federal troops clashed here with striking workers. Later, is was home to what is thought to have been the first-ever African-American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which helped plant the seeds of the mid-20th century civil rights movement.
In recent years, protecting Pullman to preserve its historic significance became a popular bipartisan cause, and in July 2015, President Obama protected it as a national monument—the first-ever National Park Service unit in the city and one of only a few in the state.
Honouliuli National Monument (Hawaii)
Like Pullman National Monument, Hawaii’s Honouliuli National Monument, designated the same day, tells a story about civil rights in the U.S. During World War II, an executive order allowed the restriction and imprisonment of thousands of Japanese Americans and others deemed to be potential espionage risks. This was done without due process and based on vague-to-nonexistent evidence. The White House told the Los Angeles Times that preserving one of the largest internment camps from this dark period is intended to call attention to "the fragility of civil rights during times of conflict." Monument status allows greater visibility to fully acknowledge past injustices and ensure that future generations learn from our mistakes.
Waco Mammoth National Monument (Texas)
Waco Mammoth National Monument showcases the Waco Mammoth fossil site in Texas that contains one of the largest known North American concentrations of Pleistocene mammoths and other animals. It was announced by President Obama in July 2015.
Halfway between Dallas and Austin, the 107-acre Waco Mammoth site was discovered in 1978 and contains at least 24 mammoths, most of which were infant or young mammoths that perished in a catastrophic flood while being protected by adult members of the herd.
The Waco site, which already attracts 20,000 visitors a year including large groups of schoolchildren, is poised to become an even more recognized educational and tourism destination with monument status.
Next up in 2016?
California Desert (California)
Credit: John Dittli.
The Wilderness Society and local communities have worked for years to protect the California Desert from threats, including poorly planned development and increasing pressures on natural resources from the expansion of nearby Los Angeles and Las Vegas metropolitan areas. In the absence of congressional progress, you have helped us ask President Obama to designate three national monuments here, protecting stunning mountain landscape, unique wildlife, Native American petroglyphs and much more. Learn more.
Bears Ears (Utah)
Credit: Mason Cummings.
The region of Utah known as “Bears Ears” is home to spectacular wild landscapes and more than 100,000 archaeological and historic sites, including Ice Age hunting camps, cliff dwellings, prehistoric villages and rock art panels of ancestral Puebloan peoples. The region is still vital to the ceremonial lives of Native Americans and it is a big draw for outdoors enthusiasts. Despite all this, oil and gas companies are pressing to explore the region, so efforts are ramping up to permanently protect Bears Ears. The region was one of six “Too Wild to Drill” spots highlighted in The Wilderness Society’s recent report. Learn more.
California Coastal National Monument Expansions
Credit: BLM, flickr.
California Coastal National Monument was established by President Bill Clinton in 2000 and expanded by President Obama in 2014. Now we’re working on further expanding it to protect several iconic locations along the coastline, including grasslands, redwood forests and historic lighthouses. The additions would ensure better public access for recreation while also preserving crucial habitat for seabirds, seals, sea lions and other wildlife. Learn more.