National parks and monuments on public lands in our state and across the nation help to define who we are as Californians, and as Americans. These iconic natural wonders and historical landmarks tell the stories of our natural, cultural and outdoor heritage and also help to drive our tourism economy.
Up and down the Central Valley, Californians from many different walks of life derive great benefit from access to national parks, monuments and cultural sites.
It is in these shared spaces that so many members of the Latino community see ourselves represented. In the soaring peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is our future potential. Our strength and resiliency lie in the towering trees of Giant Sequoia National Monument in Tulare County. And the honoring of our culture and the sacrifices of our elders and ancestors is memorialized at César E. Chávez National Monument in Keene.
These national monuments also help to drive the Golden State’s thriving outdoor economy, serve as family vacation destinations, pay homage to our shared history, and raise the overall quality of life in surrounding communities. Thanks to the Antiquities Act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago, national parks and monuments like San Gabriel Mountains, Giant Sequoia and César Chávez have been safeguarded for the enjoyment of all.
But California’s public lands have faced relentless attacks in Washington, D.C. over the past year. In April, President Donald Trump issued an executive order mandating a review of all national monuments more than 100,000 acres created since 1996, or where the Secretary of the Interior arbitrarily determined that designations were made with insufficient public input.
More than 2.8 million Americans weighed in during the review period, 99 percent of whom commented in support of the monuments being left intact. Yet in late August, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke advised changing boundaries on a “handful” of national monuments, and in a startling lack of transparency, the Trump Administration has so far refused to make public the actual recommendations.
Just this month, members of Congress advanced legislation by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) that would severely limit a president’s authority to designate new national monuments and also enable them to roll back existing monuments. Bishop also effectively killed colleagues’ request for greater transparency in the Trump Administration’s monuments review. California Reps. Paul Cook, Jeff Denham, Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock all voted in support of these actions.
And in late October, news emerged from the White House that Trump intends to travel to Utah in December to announce drastic reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments. Such action would be unprecedented and likely the largest rollback of public land protections in the history of our nation, in direct contradiction to the wishes of 30 regional Native American tribes and the American people, and will undoubtedly be challenged in court.
Reducing these two monuments in Utah, including one that was established more than two decades ago, tells us that national monuments in California and everywhere else remain at great risk.
Make no mistake: national monuments and the natural and historic resources they protect have important significance to a broad diversity of Americans. The threats posed to our monuments’ future existence represents an affront to diverse communities throughout our state and nation, including our local Latino population. According to public opinion research conducted by the Colorado College State of Rockies Project, more than three-fourths of Latinos in western states support the creation of new national parks or monuments. And more than nine in 10 Latinos see public lands such as national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas as “an essential part” of the economy.
Fortunately, many elected officials and community leaders throughout the Golden State have stood up in defense of public lands and the Antiquities Act. California’s Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris have called on the Trump administration to preserve the monument designation and current boundaries of the seven California national monuments currently under review. And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has pledged to take any legal action necessary to protect the national monuments in California.
We are grateful to these leaders for standing up for our nation’s legacy. We can’t allow one of our nation’s proudest, most enduring conservation legacies to be dismantled, thus jeopardizing the future opportunities of our communities, as well as the tourism benefits that these monuments currently provide.
Rey León is mayor of his hometown, Huron, and is the founder and executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement & Policy Project (Valley LEAP). José González grew up in Tulare and Turlock, and is the founder and executive director of Latino Outdoors, based in San Francisco. Maite Arce is the president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.