President Biden should make a national monument in Sierra from Yosemite to Kings Canyon
BY RUSSELL GALIPEAU AND DON NEUBACHER
April 29, 2022
Last year, President Biden set our first-ever national conservation goal — to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 — as part of his America the Beautiful Plan.
Two pieces of legislation can play a significant role in achieving the administration’s 30×30 initiative; the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 1906 Antiquities Act. A key feature of both the Wilderness Act and the Antiquities Act? These pieces of legislation do not require nor obligate the federal government to acquire new lands, but to instead place existing federal lands under a different management regime. Both are crucial to meeting our country’s conservation goals.
The Wilderness Act requires an act of Congress, which seems unrealistic during these contentious times. But the Antiquities Act is a powerful tool that empowers the president to designate national monuments on federal lands that contain natural or cultural resources in need of protection.
Collectively, we have spent 80 years working for the national Park Service, protecting some of our country’s most treasured natural and cultural resources at national parks across the country. During our time with the NPS, we’ve seen firsthand the importance of preservation and conservation. We have also worked at numerous national parks that got their start thanks to the Antiquities Act, including Channel Islands National Park, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Muir Woods National Monument.
If we look back at history, we’ll find that 18 of the 22 presidents have exercised their authority under the Antiquities Act since its passage in 1906, including President Biden, who utilized the act when he restored the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument. But there are still thousands of acres of public land at risk.
For example, over 1 million acres between Yosemite and Kings Canyon national parks is federal land in need of additional protections.
Yosemite National Park is approximately two-thirds smaller today than when it was originally designated by Congress in 1890. Approximately half of this area is already congressionally-designated wilderness, though some nonconforming uses were authorized by Congress within it. The Range of Light National Monument would connect the two parks to serve as a habitat area in an incredibly important landscape.
According to the Unite the Parks Campaign, half of California’s native plant species live in the Sierra Nevada, and more than 400 are found nowhere else on Earth, in addition to 93 at-risk species. A national-monument designation for this landscape will prevent development, restore habitat, enhance wildlife corridors and provide additional conservation and recreational opportunities.
There are other landscapes, such as Avi Kwa Ame in Nevada, the Santiam watershed in Oregon (the proposed Douglas Fir National Monument) and Castner Range in Texas that would also benefit from the additional protections a national monument designation could provide. Use of the Antiquities Act in these situations would not only benefit the environment and help us meet our conservation goals, but strengthen local communities and economies.
Other areas have also been discussed as new national monuments. We have less than eight years to meet the goals laid out in the America the Beautiful Plan. We strongly urge President Biden to use the Antiquities Act to further protect federal land here in California and across the country. Climate change threats, in particular, need our immediate action. Irreplaceable resources, home to plants, wildlife, and our heritage, need our help.
Russell Galipeau served the National Park Service for 40 years and worked in seven national parks ranging from the Everglades to Wrangell-St. Elias and the Channel Islands. He lives in Newbury Park.
Don Neubacher had a 36-year career in the Park Service that included appointments at Point Reyes National Seashore, Glacier Bay National Park, Denver Service Center, Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Yosemite National Park. He lives in the Marin County town of Olema.