RIVERSIDE PRESS ENTERPRISE: Our local national monuments are under threat and must be protected

By Gabriel Araya

National monuments are part of what many love about California. These public lands — such as Mojave Trails, Giant Sequoia, and Carrizo Plain — celebrate and represent our states’ wide-open spaces, beautiful landscapes, a multitude of recreational opportunities and our nation’s cultural heritage.

However, over the last year several of the state’s monuments have been under threat from the Trump Administration, which in December removed protections from about 2 million acres of public lands in Utah that were previously declared national monuments. A day later, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that at least eight more national monuments are targeted for reductions and expanded access for mining, drilling and logging.

This attack is unprecedented — never has a president advocated for such widespread rollbacks of protections on public lands — and Californians are strongly against it.

A new Hispanic Access Foundation poll, conducted by David Binder Research, found that more than three in four Californians (78 percent) oppose the actions taken by President Trump to remove protections from Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Escalante-Staircase National Monuments. Only 18 percent support his decision. Among people of color, the opposition is 84 percent versus 12 percent in support.

The poll shows broad support for public lands that spans all generations, racial and ethnic groups, and political affiliations in California. In total, 95 percent support protecting public lands as national monuments. Removing protections from these lands — potentially opening them up to drilling, mining, or logging — is hugely unpopular in the Golden State, where we greatly value our access to public lands and the cultural heritage they represent, and wish them to be conserved for future generations.

In fact, nearly 90 percent of voters polled agreed that national monuments are important to conserve for our children and grandchildren. Another 90 percent view public lands as belonging to the people of this country and that we have a moral obligation to protect them for future generations.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration’s actions demonstrate its willingness to throw this responsibility, and along with it our communities’ concerns and input, by the wayside.

These national monument designations are the result of local and regional residents banding together to preserve the lands that make America great. These monuments weren’t created in a void of public input; they exist precisely because of public input.

And the California monuments are no exception.

For example, the call for President Obama to establish Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments came from business leaders, local elected officials, veterans, Native Americans, Latino organizations, faith leaders, historians, artists, archaeologists, sportsmen, biologists, and other experts and community members. Over 100 regional faith leaders, representing tens of thousands, jointly signed a letter to the president in support of the monuments. People showed up in droves to voice their support of the national monuments at Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s public meeting with the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture.

This poll underscores how important public lands are to Californians and how much we value its preservation. This is why I want to encourage our communities to continue speaking up for the protection of the California desert. It was up to all of us to make sure the desert monuments were designated in the first place and it will take just as much dedication to make sure they remain that way.

If we lose just one national monument, we lose part of our community, part of history, part of our great heritage. I hope our elected officials take the time to review Hispanic Access Foundation’s poll results and work to keep our national monuments intact.

Gabriel Araya is senior pastor at Casa del Rey International Ministry in Rialto.