Why Protecting Our National Monuments is Good for Colorado & the Country

Colorado National Monument (Photo courtesy of Visit Grand Junction)

Mr. President, at the close of the 19th century, many of our country’s most historic sites went unprotected. Place like Chaco Canyon and Cliff Palace — home to some of the most ancient dwellings in North America — faced looting and desecration.

So in 1906, Congress acted to protect these places by passing the Antiquities Act. The Act empowered presidents to preserve sites of cultural and historic importance and protect our most spectacular landscapes by designating them as national monuments. Using that authority, Teddy Roosevelt moved to protect places like Devil’s Tower, Muir Wood Forest, and the Grand Canyon.

Looking back, it is hard to imagine our country without these iconic places. It’s hard to imagine our country without the legacy of those people who were thinking across generations.

Since Teddy Roosevelt, administrations from both parties have used the Antiquities Act to preserve places critical to our heritage — including the designation of Colorado National Monument in 1911.

In Washington, we may differ over policy — often sharply — but both parties have long risen above the partisan squabbles of today to protect these special places for tomorrow.

With yesterday’s Executive Order, President Trump upends that tradition by opening the door to attacks on our national monuments for generations to come.

I know there are people in this Administration who claim to be “lifetime supporters and admirers of Teddy Roosevelt’s policies,” and if they are now is the time they need to be heard. Today’s action is an offense to Teddy Roosevelt’s vision for America and threatens his bipartisan legacy of conservation.

The Administration’s latest Executive Order initiates a review of all national monument designations since 1996 larger than 100,000 acres, with an interim report on its findings just 45 days later. I wonder if they know how long it takes to build a consensus in the West, and in other places, that a place is sacred enough that it should have one of these designations. And in 45 days, they are going to threaten to disturb the work of people all over the West who have supported these designations.

Speaking yesterday, President Trump justified this action by calling earlier monument designations an “egregious abuse of federal power.” I wonder what he would call a Washington-led effort to undo protections for national monuments that enjoy deep support from communities across our country — including in my state of Colorado.

For all their rhetoric about Washington overreach, this Administration and its allies in Congress seem to have no problem substituting their rash judgment for the thoughtful, community-driven designations of national monuments across the United States of America.

Had they studied this issue at all, they would have learned that existing monument designations come from exhaustive consultation. Hundreds of meetings over thousands of hours.

Unlike this Administration, Western communities did our homework. We laid the groundwork and paved the way for these designations.

Which leads me to wonder what the Administration’s so-called review hopes to achieve. I challenge any of my colleagues to come down and explain exactly how this 45-day review will uncover information that Western communities somehow missed.

They can’t, because that’s not the point of this review, which is no more than a Trojan Horse for advancing the agenda of partisan think tanks and politicians in Washington instead of the real-world interests of Western communities.

Worse, if the Administration ultimately repeals national monument designations because of this Order, it would cause real economic pain to Western states — especially in rural areas.

A recent study found that rural counties in the West with protected public lands saw jobs grow at a rate more than three times faster compared to areas without protected lands.

It just makes sense. Just ask outfitters and guides near Browns Canyon or local business owners near Chimney Rock what the effect has been on their businesses. In fact, those businesses were huge champions of both of those national monuments. You can go buy a beer in Pagosa Springs from a brewery that has a label with Chimney Rock National Monument on it.

National Monuments not only preserve our heritage; they strengthen rural communities by supporting outdoor economies and attracting visitors from across the country and around the world.

We should be encouraging more of that. Let’s do more of that. Instead, this Executive Order takes aim at our thriving outdoor economy.

As you can see here, nationwide, Americans spend $887 billion on the outdoor economy each year, supporting $65 billion in federal tax revenue and 7.6 million jobs.

There is not a country in the world that has a system of public lands like the United States of America — like the Western United States of America. Not a country in the world has what we have.

If this Administration is serious about creating jobs and strengthening our economy, and remaining faithful to the bipartisan legacy of Roosevelt, it should keep our national monuments intact and uphold the traditions honored by every president since 1906.

Mr. President, these are treasured places. Their value goes well beyond dollars and cents. It goes to the heart of who we are as nation. It goes to our cultural heritage, and to the legacy we want to pass on from our grandparents to our grandchildren.

Teddy Roosevelt called conservation “a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”

Mr. President, we must do our patriotic duty. I will use every tool at my disposal to protect the Antiquities Act and our national monuments, because in the end, our character as a nation is revealed in what we choose to preserve — now, and for generations to come.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Remarks from the Senate floor as delivered on April 27, 2017.