Obama Names New National Monuments in the West

by Charley Lanyon

(via New York Magazine)

On Tuesday, President Obama created two new national monuments out of sacred tribal lands in Utah and large tracts of desert in Nevada. The move, which puts an end to years of wrangling over the spaces, seems likely to further inflame passions in the West, where opinions over the federal government’s management of public lands has become something of a flashpoint.

Obama’s creation of Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah is especially history-making. The federal government already owns about two thirds of the land in Utah, and the new monument will put another 1.35 million acres under its care.

Quimby donates 87,500 acres for National Monument

Via the Portland Press Herald, By Kevin Miller

Roxanne Quimby’s foundation donated more than 87,500 acres in the Katahdin region to the federal government Tuesday in a critical step toward creation of a national monument in Maine’s North Woods.

While representatives for Quimby and the Obama administration remained silent Tuesday about a potential national monument designation, news of the land transfers drew strong reactions from those involved in a debate over the changing use of Maine’s vast forestlands. Supporters cheered a gift that they predicted could revitalize the region’s struggling towns, while opponents warned that providing a foothold to the federal government would inhibit economic development in the North Woods.

“It’s a sad day and a crying shame,” said Mark Marston, an East Millinocket selectman and vocal critic of the monument plan. “I think it’s just a pathway for a larger (national) park down the road.”

Documents posted Tuesday morning on the Penobscot County Registry of Deeds showed that Quimby’s nonprofit, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., had transferred 87,654 acres to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The documents were signed by Quimby and Rachel McManus, a deputy realty officer for the Interior Department, which oversees the National Park Service. The land is located to the east of Baxter State Park, which totals roughly 209,000 acres. Much of the transferred land abuts Baxter.

The move could allow President Obama to use his executive authority to create a national monument – a designation of protected land within the National Park System – just as he has done roughly two dozen times during his presidency. The transfers became public just two days before the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary – an occasion that Obama is expected to use to create new national monuments across the country.

Potential National Parks #5: Atchafalaya Basin

One of the most well-known, but equally ignored landscapes in America are the bayous. While the Everglades, Biscayne, and Congaree National Parks all protect environments that people perceive as swamps, each of these wetlands contain very different plants and animals, as well as appearing tremendously different when viewed side by side. The bulk of the bayou’s are found along the Gulf Coast from Houston to the Florida panhandle, with the highest concentration in Louisiana.

The Atchafalaya Basin is a region of swamps in southern Louisiana that is the largest expanse of wetlands and river deltas in the United States. Over the last two centuries massive dredging and efforts to use the basin as an overflow for Mississippi River floods have reshaped the lands into a spillway and disrupted flora and fauna.

Fortunately for conservation efforts, the basin includes over 100,000 acres of swamps that have yet to be altered by dams and water management like most of the southern wetlands. At present the land is owned and protected by the state of Louisiana but recently there have been proposals by the local chapter of the Sierra Club to turn the land into a National Park, with the stipulation that the land remain in the hands of the state. There has been surprising success with their proposal, with the state’s Senators and Governor open to the idea of the park.

The park proposal calls for a roadless environment that is only accessible by boat. The land is not currently open for resource extraction although it’s hard to see how the basin could remain untouched as populations and energy needs rise, not to mention the current political climate in the United States, so it would be important to move quickly and make the proposal a park before someone proposes an alternate use for the land that would take it out of its natural state.

The ‘Potential National Parks’ series is part of the Undiscovered America Kickstarter project

to document lesser-known natural wonders that could become future National Parks.

Click here to pre-order the Undiscovered America book.

President Obama Announces New National Monument To Women’s Equality

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The country’s newest national monument is now dedicated to women’s equality.

President Barack Obama took the occasion of Equal Pay Day to designate the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument.

“A woman has to work this far into 2016 just to earn what a man earned in 2015. And what better place to commemorate this day than here at this house, where some of our country’s most important history took place,” Obama said at the dedication.

Previously known as the Sewall-Belmont House, the building became the home of the National Woman’s Party in 1929. From that base, members of the party authored hundreds of pieces of legislation in pursuit of women’s equality. The new monument is named for Alva Belmont and Alice Paul, a major benefactor and leader of the movement respectively.

“This house has a story to tell; this is the story of the national women’s party whose members fought to have their voices heard,” Obama said.

Potential National Parks #4: Assateague

Acadia National Park celebrates the rocky coastline of Maine and Biscayne National Park protects mangrove trees and coral reefs in Florida, but no National Park exists to preserve the remaining sandy beaches, forested coast, and tidal marshes that exist almost the entire distance between the two parks. When Europeans began colonizing North America the east coast was in a mostly natural state, but very little of the native setting lasts today. While historic sites commemorating colonization such as Jamestown, Roanoke, and Cumberland Island are preserved for their cultural significance there is no National Park celebrating the natural environment that these colonists first interacted with.

Assateague Island is currently a National Seashore off the coast of Maryland and along with the adjacent Chincoteague Island in Virginia it protects a large section of coastline that exists as the first European colonists would have seen it. As a barrier island, Assateague is made up of sandy beaches and inland forests, interspersed with occasional wetlands. These wetlands slowly migrate over time as the ocean shapes and reshapes the island. Trails grant access to each of these environments, including elevated boardwalks that extend over marshes and allow visitors to closely observe native plants and animals while keeping safe them from human interference. The island is perhaps most famous for the feral horses that wander through trails, parking lots, and roads, as well as being a popular birdwatching location offering a chance to see more than 300 bird species.

The best candidate for establishing an eastern shoreline National Park like this would have been the Outer Banks in North Carolina although that environment was long ago overwhelmed by vacation homes, restaurants, and beach shops. The same is true about much of the Atlantic coast of the United States but despite being significantly smaller than the Outer Banks, Assateague is the best coastal location that has managed to survive into this century.

Many visitors to Assateague or Chincoteague don’t know they’re not in a National Park as the different federal land designations mean little to them. All they know is public land is public land. Still, redesignating this seashore as a National Park would carry with it many advantages that would better protect the under-appreciated environment found here, as well as give it greater tourist recognition.

The ‘Potential National Parks’ series is part of the Undiscovered America Kickstarter project

to document lesser-known natural wonders that could become future National Parks.

Click here to pre-order the Undiscovered America book.