A look at the 10 national monuments targeted in Ryan Zinke’s leaked memo
Last month, a leaked memo revealed that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the man at the helm of our national public lands system, recommended that the president of the United States reduce the size of four national monuments and allow changes to management priorities to possibly pursue oil and gas exploration, mining, timber harvesting, and commercial fishing in at least 10 of our national monuments.
Despite being pressed for details, the Trump administration has refused thus far to state publicly whether the president will attempt to use his executive power to make these or any other changes to our national monuments — changes that NPCA maintains would be illegal.
What’s at stake here? We take a look at the 10 places the Department of the Interior could shrink or exploit as part of these recommendations — changes that would amount to the largest rollback of public land protections in American history.
1. Bears Ears, Utah
This monument encompasses thousands of cultural and archaeological sites across its 1.3 million acres, including Ancient Puebloan dwellings and ruins, great houses and shrines, petroglyphs dating back 5,000 years, Triassic fossils, and other significant artifacts of the many peoples that have inhabited this region for centuries. NPCA proudly supported an intertribal coalition of Native American communities who led the charge to create the Bears Ears National Monument last year for its deep significance as a sacred ancestral landscape. This monument includes lands adjacent to Canyonlands National Park and provides strong protections against oil and gas drilling and mining threats in the region. It also offers spectacularly beautiful lands for public recreation and enjoyment that would otherwise be vulnerable to development and off-road vehicle damage.
2. Cascade-Siskiyou, Oregon and California
This site preserves the forests, grasslands, shrub lands, meadows and rivers where the Cascade, Klamath and Siskiyou mountain ranges meet, supporting an exceptional variety of wildlife habitats. It was the first national monument established solely to preserve biodiversity, and is home to vibrant communities of plants and animals that rarely live together in the same region. The monument also serves as a pathway connecting habitat areas and allowing wildlife like Pacific fishers, gray wolves and spotted owls to migrate freely. The region’s impressive old-growth forests include a diversity of trees, and its clear, cold waters are home to numerous rare and native fish species. One of the notable sights at Cascade-Siskiyou is Pilot Rock, a volcanic intrusion that erupted in the Cascade Range more than 25 million years ago and is geologically similar to Devils Tower.
3. Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah
This spectacular site covers a wide stretch of land between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks that directly borders Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to the east and south. It is the largest land-based monument in the country and represents a significant region in the “Grand Staircase,” an immense section of the Colorado Plateau with a sequence of sedimentary rock layers that spans almost 275 million years of geologic history. The monument contains the most extensive slot canyons in the state, as well as waterfalls, arches, brightly colored cliffs, abandoned Wild West movie sets, and lots and lots of slickrock. Numerous dinosaur fossils have been discovered at the national monument since its designation, including a new species, Lythronax argestes, the oldest known tyrannosaur.
4. Gold Butte, Nevada
About two hours east of Las Vegas, this monument features a landscape of springs, seeps and cultural sites among massive and intricately shaped red rock formations. Visitors can hike to see some of the thousands of petroglyphs Gold Butte is famous for, as well as eroded sandstone arches, twisting canyons, Paleozoic fossils, archaeological remnants dating back 12,000 years and a ghost town where miners once lived. This rugged and remote site connects Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, creating a large landscape of protected land abundant with wildlife, including threatened Mojave Desert tortoises, bighorn sheep and mountain lions.
5. Katahdin Woods and Waters, Maine
This recent addition to the National Park System preserves the East Branch of the Penobscot River, first made famous by Henry David Thoreau in his 1864 series of essays, “The Maine Woods.” The wild lands around this famed river include vast boreal forests and native wildlife species that are characteristic of Maine’s interior. Visitors can see moose and lynx, whitewater falls, deep river valleys, dramatic flood plains, and “rock conglomerates” — formations made up of different types of Appalachian rock fragments dating back millions of years. The monument’s forests were once valuable to the region’s paper mills, and feature a diverse mix of tree species, including maple, oak, ash, beech, birch, aspen, spruce, fir and hemlock.
6. Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Atlantic Ocean
This marine reserve is the only marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, created to protect three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon and the only four seamounts (underwater mountains) found along the Atlantic Coast; these seamounts rise higher above the seafloor than all U.S. mountains east of the Rockies. These formations alter the ocean current and facilitate a process called upwelling. Through this process, winds push waters away from the ocean surface, and deeper, nutrient-rich water rises to replace the surface water, feeding the plankton that forms the basis of the entire ocean food chain. This monument supports the vibrant marine biodiversity of the Northeast, including cod, tuna, sea turtles, sharks, seabirds and endangered marine mammals, such as North Atlantic right whales.
7. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, New Mexico
This picturesque site contains parts of several mountain ranges in the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico, including the jagged granite pinnacles of the Organ Mountains just east of Las Cruces. The portion of this range known as the Needles features 34-million-year-old peaks that tower nearly 9,000 feet above the landscape and attract rock-climbing enthusiasts from around the globe. Among the more than 200 known archaeological sites within the monument boundary are some of the oldest cultural artifacts of several Native American tribes. Visitors can also find rugged volcanic features, including lava flows and cinder cones, as well as twisting canyons, Chihuahan Desert grasslands, seasonal streams and a historic stagecoach route from the 1800s. The outlaw Billy the Kid, Apache leader Geronimo, conservationist Aldo Leopold and Apollo astronauts-in-training have all spent time in this area.
8. Pacific Remote Islands, Pacific Ocean
Located in the Central Pacific Ocean, these seven islands and atolls offer a wide variety of marine and terrestrial life, including corals, fish, marine mammals, birds, insects and native plants not found anywhere else. Marine reserves such as this one that do not allow fishing are some of the most effective tools for improving ocean ecosystems and protecting threatened fish species and can increase the number, size and diversity of fish and other marine animals. Maintaining marine protections at the Pacific Remote Islands can help ensure robust, sustainable marine wildlife populations that not only benefit the monument waters, but the larger Pacific ecosystem and the national parks located there.
9. Rio Grande Del Norte, New Mexico
This rugged monument, which was created with broad and diverse community support, encompasses parts of a volcanic field and rhyolite-basalt plateau carved by an 800-foot-deep gorge of the Rio Grande. These lands are ecologically connected to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve to the north and feature spectacular cliffs, vast grass and sagebrush mesas, petroglyphs and artifacts, volcanic peaks up to 10,000 feet tall, and remnants of human habitation from the earliest Native Americans in the region to early Spanish and Mexican settlers. These important wild lands have helped the state’s tourism economy, drawing rafters to its Class II to Class V rapids and birders to its excellent habitat, while still accommodating traditional activities like livestock grazing, hunting, and herb and piñon nut harvesting.
10. Rose Atoll, American Samoa and Pacific Ocean
This underwater monument is one of the most pristine atolls in the world and home to a vibrant coral reef ecosystem and numerous threatened and endangered species, including nesting sea turtles. Because it is so remote, animals that are severely threatened elsewhere have been able to thrive here, including giant clams, humphead wrasse, large parrotfishes and whitetip sharks. Rose Atoll is also integral to the protection and preservation of the National Park of American Samoa, where the reefs are showing signs of overfishing. By contrast, large predators such as sharks, barracuda, tuna, mahi-mahi and billfish frequent Rose Atoll’s waters, and the reefs are rich in biodiversity, increasing the number of species that migrate between islands and frequent the national park.
An attack on any of these national monuments is a betrayal of the American public and out of step with people all around the country who sent more than 2.8 million comments during the Trump administration’s review process in favor of keeping these places, and all national monuments, protected.
Once we allow commercial enterprises to dismantle and exploit these important places, we cannot make them whole again.
Please join NPCA in asking Congress to pledge that they will guarantee full protection for America’s national monuments in the face of this massive threat.
The views expressed in this article are those of the National Parks Conservation Association and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
About the author
Ani Kame’enui Former Deputy Vice President, Government Affairs
Ani Kame’enui is the Deputy Vice President for the Government Affairs team and responsible for managing NPCA's policy portfolio across a range of park issues. She comes to NPCA with a background in geology, water resources engineering, and a love for natural resource science and policy.