People For the American Way

Congress: Don’t Undermine Efforts to Make Our Parks and Monuments System More Inclusive

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Congress: Don’t Undermine Efforts to Make Our Parks and Monuments System More Inclusive
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Neither President Trump nor Congress should be making it harder to make our parks and monuments system more inclusive and tell a fuller story of our nation’s history. Yet that’s exactly what they’re doing. Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are waging what the League of Conservation Voters called “the largest attack on parks and monuments in our nation’s history.” Congress is considering legislation not only to back Trump and Zinke but also to write their dangerous views on presidential power into law for future generations. A letter sent by more than 120 national, state, and local organizations, including People For the American Way, underscores what’s at risk if protections for special places are removed and our legacy of shaping a more inclusive system of public lands is undermined. You can download our letter here.

Dear Member of Congress,

On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we write to express our strong opposition to legislation weakening the Antiquities Act or codifying attempts to shrink or eliminate national monuments. Any attack on our public lands, monuments, oceans, and waters is an attack on our communities, our history, our contributions to this great nation, and our culture; and it robs the next generation of a chance to learn from these shared treasures. It has often been said that our nation’s public lands system is one of our best ideas; we must now come together to protect these special places.

In addition to protecting majestic places, sustaining wildlife, and benefiting local economies and communities, national monuments promote diversity and inclusivity in our system of public lands. Our nation’s public lands are owned by all people in this country, and we all ought to see our histories and cultures reflected in these public lands. That is one reason why national parks, historical sites, and monuments are so important: they can help tell a more complete story of our country’s history and the many cultures and movements that have helped shape our United States.

National monuments in particular have helped make our public lands more inclusive by commemorating the fights for civil rights and racial justice, women’s suffrage, LGBTQ equality, workers’ rights, tribal recognition and traditions, and so many other pivotal moments, individuals, and movements that continue to take our country forward. Places such as Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, Stonewall National Monument, Pullman National Monument, Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, and Bears Ears National Monument help preserve and share the history and experiences that comprehensively reflect the stories of all people in this country.

The Antiquities Act, which has been used by eight Republicans and eight Democrats, allows presidents to preserve important places as national monuments and has even provided the initial protections for nearly half of our national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Acadia National Parks. President Theodore Roosevelt signed this bedrock conservation law in 1906, and since then presidents have used it to protect remarkable places that tell the fuller story of our nation.

Unfortunately, we write at a time when national monuments and the Antiquities Act are under assault. Nearly one year ago, President Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review dozens of national monument designations. This resulted in President Trump taking the single biggest step in removing protections for public lands in our nation’s history when he overstepped his statutory authority and cut Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments by two million acres. Now legislation may move in Congress that would not only codify Trump’s rollbacks—H.R. 4532 and H.R. 4558—but also threaten the very purpose of the Antiquities Act. Representative Bishop’s H.R. 3990 and Senator Murkowski’s S. 33, for example, would severely limit presidents’ power to protect incredible and representative places for future generations.

Congress should not be making it harder to protect places that can make our parks and monuments system more inclusive and tell the fuller story of our nation’s history. That is why we urge you to reject any legislation that would limit the president’s authority under the Antiquities Act or codify any unlawful rollbacks of existing national monuments.

While not all undersigned groups work on every issue discussed in this letter, we can all agree on what’s at risk if protections for special places are removed and our legacy of shaping a more inclusive system of public lands is undermined. Thank you for considering our views.