This week I traveled to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. I’m an avid birder, so it was a great opportunity to see the birds here at this crucial stop on their spring migration north. It was President Teddy Roosevelt who first protected Malheur back in 1908 because of its incredible importance to wildlife. I appreciate that history because I’m also a huge advocate for America’s public lands – and I was shocked a year ago to see this sanctuary occupied by an armed militia. That group was out of step with most Americans — they believed private citizens have more of a right to exploit our country’s public lands for personal gain, instead of appreciating that these lands belong to all of us – they are an American birthright and are one of the great achievements of our democracy.
…this Antiquities Act review is a public lands hit job…
I can’t believe that a year later another attack has been launched on America’s public lands. Yesterday, President Trump signed an Executive Order to review National Monuments designated by the Antiquities Act in the last 21 years. Don’t be fooled, this review won’t be fair. It won’t follow the facts – like the strong local support that has been demonstrated in recent years for new National Monuments, or the economic studies that show National Monuments strengthen local economies, or that Westerners overwhelmingly support the protections from designating National Monuments. Instead this Antiquities Act review is a public lands hit job – exactly what you’d expect from the administration that created “alternative facts.”
This Executive Order is completely out of touch with what Americans want. It attacks the act that has been used by sixteen presidents – eight Republicans and eight Democrats – to protect iconic pieces of America like the Grand Canyon, Acadia, and the Grand Tetons. In fact, nearly half of America’s national parks were originally protected as National Monuments – including Olympic National Park in my home state of Washington. Again, it was President Teddy Roosevelt who originally created Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909, and it later became Olympic National Park in 1938. The great landscapes and places of unique cultural heritage that have been protected by the Antiquities Act tell the story of America – and this resonates with Americans. It is no surprise that a poll by Colorado College earlier this year found only 13 percent of Western voters support removing protections for existing National Monuments, while 80 percent support keeping them in place. But instead of listening to Americans who overwhelmingly value National Monuments, President Trump and Secretary Zinke are listening to ideologues like Congressman Rob Bishop and other errand boys for the oil and gas industry in Washington D.C.
Putting ideology ahead of common sense is also going to hurt an important piece of the American economy. Just this week the Outdoor Industry Association released updated numbers showing the outdoor recreation economy, which is closely tied to public lands, generates $887 billion in consumer spending annually, and sustains 7.6 million American jobs. That is more American jobs than in food and beverage service, construction, or computer technology. According to Headwaters Economics, rural counties in the West with more than 30 percent protected public lands saw jobs increase by over 300 percent over areas without protected lands. They also found that regions surrounding National Monuments have seen continued economic growth, with improved employment and increased per-capita income.
Just like our country will never forget the public lands contributions from President Teddy Roosevelt, I have no doubt that history is going to be on the side of current champions like Senators Michael Bennet, Maria Cantwell, Kamala Harris, Martin Heinrich, Patty Murray, and Tom Udall – who all were quick to condemn the Executive Order. Unlike President Trump and Secretary Zinke, they understand that the reality is Americans love and value our National Monuments and National Parks, we want to see them protected by the Antiquities Act, and we know these protected lands are an important and healthy part of the country’s economy.