14 New National Monuments Considered by Obama Administration
The Obama Administration is considering 14 potential national monuments in nine states, including Cedar Mesa and the San Rafael Swell in Utah, and adding significant protection to federal land in numerous other states, according to a leaked Department of the Interior document. Republicans are up in arms over the draft, and officials from Utah are on their way to Washington to complain. The Beehive State is still stinging from Bill Clinton’s 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which protected 1.7 million acres of land.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert said, “News that the Interior Department is secretly looking at a proposal to lock up public lands in Utah, without seeking input or even having the consideration to contact our state and local officials, is both upsetting and offensive. I will challenge federal officials to explain to me how they could possibly be in a better position to know what’s best for our rural lands than those of us here on the ground in this state.”
A spokesperson for the Interior Department, Kendra Barkoff, told the Salt Lake Tribune, “The preliminary internal discussion draft reflects some brainstorming discussions within [Bureau of Land Management], but no decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration. Secretary Salazar believes new designations and conservation initiatives work best when they build on local efforts to better manage places that are important to nearby communities.”
Despite its preliminary nature, the draft has sparked a wildfire of outrage among conservatives.
“We need to fight it every step of the way,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
“We’ve been burned before, and I want to make sure we’re not burned again,” said Utah Rep. Bob Bishop, also head of the Congressional Western Congress.
“You better believe I’ll do everything in my power … to prevent this designation,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Environmentalists, of course, were encouraged by the draft. Richard Peterson-Cremer of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Given the attention Congress gives to Utah wilderness, it should come as no surprise that the administration is considering protections for Utah’s incomparable landscapes such as the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa. The success of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has demonstrated to Utahns and Americans the benefits of protecting these special places.”
Here are the 14 areas under consideration, as described in the memo. For a PDF of the document, click here.
San Rafael Swell, UT
Located in South-Central Utah, the San Rafael Swell is a 75 by 40 mile giant dome made of sandstone, shale and limestone—one of the most spectacular displays of geology in the country. The Swell is surrounded by canyons, gorges, mesas and buttes, and is home to eight rare plant species, desert big horns, coyotes, bobcats, cottontail rabbits, badgers, gray and kit fox, and the golden eagle. Visitors to the area can find ancient Indian rock art and explore a landscape with geographic features resembling those found on Mars.
Montana’s Northern Prairie, MT
The Northern Montana Prairie contains some of the largest unplowed areas of grasslands in the world and some of best habitat regions in all the Great Plains. Unfortunately, we are losing our grasslands and northern prairies at alarming rates, and few opportunities exist to conserve grassland ecosystems and their native biota on large scales. If protected, Montana’s Northern Prairie would connect more than 2,5 million acres of protected grasslands bordering Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area and Grasslands National Park in Canada. This cross-boundary conservation unit would provide an opportunity to restore prairie wildlife and the possibility of establishing a new national bison range. This landscape conservation opportunity would require conservation easements. willing seller acquisitions, and withdrawal from the public domain.
Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve, NM
This 58,000-acre Preserve is prime habitat for both the lesser prairie chicken and the sand dune lizard. This area of sand dunes and tall bluestem grasses is ideal habitat for both species. The Preserve contains more than 30 percent of the occupied lesser prairie chicken habitat in southeastern New Mexico. Recent monitoring of the area concluded that this habitat is in good to excellent condition. Protection of this area offers the best opportunity to avoid the necessity of listing either of these species as threatened or endangered.
Berryessa Snow Mountains, CA
The public lands of the Berryessa Snow Mountain region stretch from the lowlands of Putah Creek below Lake Berryessa, across remote stretches of Cache Creek, and up to the peaks of Goat Mountain and Snow Mountain, This vast expanse—nearly 500,000 acres in the wild heart of California’s inner Coast Ranges — provides habitat and critical long-term movement corridors for many species of wildlife and an unusually rich part of the California Floristic Province, a biological hotspot of global importance.
Heart of the Great Basin, NV
The Heart of the Great Basin contains Nevada’s wild heart — a globally unique assemblage of cultural, wildlife, and historical values. Here, Toiyabe, Toquima, and Monitor peaks tower to 12,000 feet. Thousands of petroglyphs and stone artifacts provide insight to the area’s inhabitants from as long as 12,000 years ago, The region contains varied ecosystems including alpine tundra, rushing creeks, aspen groves, and high desert sage grouse habitat. The area is also a center of climate change scientific research. (e.g., Great Basin Pika is a keystone species for climate research), and one of North America’s least appreciated wildland mosaics.
Otero Mesa, NM
Stretching over 1.2 million acres, Otero Mesa is home to more than 1,000 native wildlife species. including black-tailed prairie dogs, mountain lions, desert mule deer, and the only genetically pure herd of pronghorn antelope in New Mexico. These vast desert grasslands of Otero Mesa, once found throughout the region, have disappeared or been reduced to small patches unable to support native wildlife, Otero Mesa is one of the last remaining vestiges of grasslands — America’s most endangered ecosystem.
Northwest Sonoran Desert, AZ
The Sonoran Desert is the most biologically diverse of all North American deserts. This area west of Phoenix is largely remote and undeveloped, with a high concentration of pristine desert wilderness landscapes. There is potential for up to 500,000 acres of new wilderness and National Conservation Area designations.
Owyhee Desert, OR/NV
Last year Congress protected a significant portion of the Owyhee Canyonlands region in Idaho. However, a significant portion of the Owyhee region in Oregon and Nevada remains unprotected. The Owyhee Desert is one of the most remote areas in the continental United States, characterized by juniper covered deserts, natural arches, mountains and ancient lava flows. The many branching forks of the Owyhee River form deep, sheer-walled canyons between desert wilderness and entice river runners from around the Nation. The Owyhees are home to the world’s largest herd of California bighorn sheep, elk, deer, cougar. Redband trout, sage-grouse and raptors.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, CA (expansion)
In 2000, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was established to protect the extraordinary biodiversity and vegetation found in southwestern Oregon. Unfortunately, because of political constraints, the Monument’s southern boundary was artificially established at the California State line. Therefore, the Monument does not include the ecologically important Klamath River tributaries and cuts out sections of important no-regions from protection, Connectivity of landscapes is essential to protect and maintain healthy wildlife populations especially in the face of global climate change. In addition, this expansion could connect Cascade-Siskiyou with the proposed Siskiyou Crest National Monument. Expansions on the Oregon side may also be worth consideration.
Vermillion Basin, CO
The Vermillion Basin, located in northwest Colorado, is a rugged and wild landscape containing sweeping sagebrush basins, ancient petroglyph-filled canyons and whitewater rivers. Besides its scenic qualities, the basin is a critical migration corridor and winter ground for big game species such as elk, mule deer and pronghorn, in addition to being vital sage grouse habitat. This unique high desert basin is currently under threat of oil and gas development, which will forever alter the region.
Bodie Hills, CA
The remote Bodie Hills, located in the eastern Sierra Nevada, provide habitat for the imperiled sage grouse and the iconic pronghorn antelope, rare in California. The ghost town of Bodie State Historic Park, managed by the State of California, lies at the center of the Bodie Hills. Bodie State Historic Park is known as the best preserved ghost town in the West and receives several hundred thousand visits annually. Numerous gold mining operations have been proposed in the Bodies, and a new proposal is pending. Bodie Hills provides an opportunity to link both ecotourism and cultural tourism providing benefits to the surrounding communities.
The Modoc Plateau, CA
Tucked away in California’s northeast corner, the Modoc Plateau contains some of the State‘s most spectacular and remote lands. This wild and largely undiscovered region features an array of natural riches: unbroken vistas, abundant wildlife, and millions of acres of intact, undisturbed landscapes. Spanning close to three million acres of ‘public land that is laden with biological and archeological treasures, the Modoc Plateau is one of the State’s most important natural landscapes. The crown jewel of these areas – the Skedaddle Mountains – covers close to a half- million acres in California and Nevada. The California portion alone is the second largest unprotected wilderness area in the state.
Cedar Mesa region, UT
For more than 12,000 years, generations of families from Paleo-Indian big game hunters to Mormon settlers traveled to the area now within southeastern Utah’s Cedar Mesa region. Their stories are now buried among the area‘s estimated hundreds of thousands of prehistoric and historic sites. Cedar Mesa also contains thousands of largely intact cliff dwellings and open-air sites built between All 750 and 1300 by later prehistoric farmers known as the Ancestral Puebloans or Anasazi.
San Juan Islands, WA
This cluster of hundreds of islands along the nation’s northern border contains a wealth of resources. The deep channels between islands and placid, reef-studded bays are home to myriad marine species and support major migratory routes for Orcas. The islands contain healthy pine and fir forests which protect a wide variety of wildlife species. The outstanding scenery and a historic lighthouse support diverse recreation opportunities. This area also supports sailing and sea kayaking opportunities that are unique in the Northwest.
Conservation Designations: Areas worthy of protection that are ineligible for Monument Designation and unlikely to receive legislative protection in the near term.
Bristol Bay Region, AK
Bristol Bay, located in southwest Alaska, is pristine wild country encompassing AIaska‘s largest lake, rugged snow-capped peaks and tundra laced with countless winding rivers. Bristol Bay has been called the world’s greatest salmon fishery, home to the largest sockeye salmon fisheries and one of the largest king salmon runs in the world. The region is also home to caribou, brown and black bear, moose, sandhill cranes, and myriad migratory birds. Conservationists have expressed that Bristol Bay is threatened by proposed open pit gold mining, which would forever alter this pristine and delicate watershed, potentially exposing the salmon and trout habitat to acid mine drainage.
Teshekpuk Lake, AK
Teshekpuk Lake is a 22-mile wide lake located on the north slope of Alaska. Due to climate change and loss of habitat, Teshekpuk Lake has been called one of the most important areas for wildlife population survival in the entire Arctic. The lake and surrounding land is both a migration and calving ground for 46,000 caribou and home to 90,000 summer geese. In addition, hundreds of species of birds migrate from six continents to spend part of the year at Teshekpuk Lake.
Red Desert, WY
The Red Desert‘s rich landscape offers spectacular desert structures and wildlife habitat. The Desert provides world class pronghorn and elk hunting; the area is home to the largest desert elk herd in North America and the migration path for 50,000 pronghorn antelope. Early explorers, pioneers, and Mormon settlers used the unique features in the Red Desert as landmarks to guide them Westward. The Pony Express Trail traverses the northern section of the Red Desert. One of the unique features in the Red Desert is Adobe Town, an astonishing and remote set of badlands and geologic formations. Visitors can see fossils of long-extinct mammals, reptiles and invertebrates. theadventurelife.org