By Contributing writer: Isaac Jacobo
When I first learned of the Trump Administration’s Executive Order in April to “review” national monuments across the country, including many here in California, I knew I had to act. Many Inland Empire and California Desert region Latino and faith communities actively called for the designation of Mojave Trails, Castle Mountains, Sand to Snow, and San Gabriel Mountains National Monuments. My pastor at Fontana’s Seventh Day Adventist church first brought the issue to the attention of the congregation, so that’s where I began my work.
Working with the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF), I helped gather over 4,000 comments in the Inland Empire region for the U.S. Department of Interior’s public comment period that was to be part of the review, arguing against any scale-back of protections for our precious public lands.
HAF partnered with leading Latino organizations from across the nation to educate the public about the threat to our national monuments, including Carrizo Plain, Giant Sequoia, Cascade-Siskiyou, and Berryessa Snow Mountain here in California. As a result of these collaborative efforts, over 50,000 people submitted comments urging the president to keep our majestic natural wonders intact. Overall, Interior received more than 2.8 million comments, over 99 percent of which supported maintaining or expanding the boundaries of our nation’s monuments.
Local communities have invested decades working to protect these places for future generations. Should the President Trump attempt to reduce our national monuments, as Secretary Zinke recommended to the administration in his secret August document, it would fly in the face of the tireless efforts of local communities and ignore millions of voices that care about protecting our treasured public lands.
As someone who works closely with my church’s youth, this issue is especially close to my heart. Growing up, I spent summers going to national parks, monuments, and other public lands, spending sacred time in nature, appreciating God’s creation.
It is important to me to share this experience with my church’s youth. I want them to have the opportunity to have the experiences I did, and my parents did, and their parents before them. We share nature with our youth, and show them the importance of caring for the planet. When someone threatens that, we want our voice to be heard. Instead, our voices are being ignored, and we may be facing the loss of protection of millions of acres of public lands.
While Secretary Zinke announced that Sand to Snow Monument has been spared, Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains are in the administration’s crosshairs, in large part due to Paul Cook’s recommendations to Zinke.
The president’s attempt to deprive Americans of their rightful access to our public lands and the natural and historic resources they protect is likely illegal, according to most legal scholars. That’s because the law through which national monuments were established gives presidents the authority only to designate monuments, not to rescind or shrink them.
But President Trump is expected to ignore the law and pander to special interests who wish to drill and mine our public lands in spite of their invaluable historic, scenic, cultural, and recreational contributions to the Inland Empire and Desert regions. Tribes, attorneys general, conservation groups, and others are lining up to sue the Trump administration, should they take such actions. This entire process initiated by Trump is wasteful of our tax dollars and also disrespectful to Americans’ public lands legacy. Yes, some lands must be used for mining and energy development, but not our national parks and monuments!
Having access to nature, and protecting it, is deeply spiritual. We take time each week to be in and appreciate God’s creation. Going into nature and sharing it with the next generation is crucial to our beliefs. The scale-back of these monuments would be felt across southern California and beyond, preventing families from knowing and appreciating the planet, and curtailing opportunities for existing and growing tourism businesses.
I strongly encourage that Trump Administration to leave our monuments as they are instead of desecrating our nation’s most important places. I encourage Inland Empire and Desert regions’ elected officials to oppose this wrong-headed attack on our national monuments and to ensure that future generations can reap the benefits of these significant public lands.
Isaac Jacobo lives in Heperia and is a member of the Fontana de la Esperanza Seventh-Day Adventist Church.