Obama creates 3 new national monuments to protect 1.8 million acres of California desert

By Louis Sahagun via Los Angeles Times

President Obama designated three new national monuments in the California desert Thursday, expanding federal protection to 1.8 million acres of landscapes that have retained their natural beauty despite decades of heavy mining, cattle ranching and off-roading.

The designation was requested by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who for a decade has sought to protect land that wasn’t included in the 1994 California Desert Protection Act. That measure covered nearly 7.6 million acres, elevated Death Valley and Joshua Tree to national park status and created the Mojave National Preserve.

Unable to gain momentum on her California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act last year, Feinstein and conservation groups asked Obama to act unilaterally to create the three monuments overlapping biological zones between roughly Palm Springs and the Nevada border.

Concern over the long-term health of the deceptively delicate terrain spurred Obama to designate the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which authorizes presidents to create national monuments on federal land to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.”


Cut new national parks, says group backed by Koch brothers

by  (via inhabitat.com)

The National Park Service operations budget has been cut 80 percent in the last 4 years, but not enough for a group backed by the Charles G Koch Charitable Foundation. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Reed Watson, executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center, lambasted existing provisions to protect national parks and efforts to set aside new land for preservation. PERC, which has received over $90,000 from the Koch brother’s foundation, advocates cutting all taxpayer support for national parks and switching to a 100 percent fee-based funding structure instead.

Watson says President Barack Obama is “irresponsible” for creating seven new parks instead of addressing the National Park Service’s $11.5 billion maintenance backlog. He suggests the administration should use the $900 million Land and Water Conservation Fund derived from offshore oil and gas leases to pay for maintenance projects, instead of what it has been used to do since it was established in 1965: acquire new land and protect existing green spaces so future generations can enjoy them as well.

He fails to mention the National Park Service is struggling to stay afloat as a result of deep budget cuts over the past several years. For fiscal year 2015, the National Park Service requested $3.65 billion in funding. It received just $2.98 billion. Yet each year, American taxpayers give the fossil fuel industry $21 billion in exploration and production subsidies alone.

Read more here: http://inhabitat.com/group-backed-by-koch-money-wants-to-cut-new-national-parks/

President Obama Announces Three New National Monuments

by Brian Clark Howard (National Geographic)

A World War II internment camp in Hawaii, an industrial district in Chicago steeped in labor history, and a popular canyon in Colorado will soon be U.S. national monuments, thanks to new designations expected from President Barack Obama on Thursday.

“Together, these monuments will help tell the story of significant events in American history and protect unique natural resources for the benefit of all Americans,” the White House said in a statement.

Similar to national parks, national monuments preserve areas of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest. Congress granted presidents the authority to designate such monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Under the act, past presidents have protected such landmarks as the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty. With the three new sites, Obama has designated a total of 16 areas as national monuments. (See how the U.S. created the largest protected area in the world.)

Still, some in Congress are not pleased with the president’s new designations. Representative Ken Buck (R-Colorado), for instance, said Obama is “acting like King Barack.”

(read more here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150219-new-national-monuments-hawaii-pullman-browns-canyon/)

Hours After State Of The Union, Senate Targets National Parks

By Claire Moser (via Think Progress)

Just hours after President Obama’s State of the Union address highlighted the effort to protect more public lands and waters than any other administration, the U.S. Senate is poised to vote on a controversial and unpopular proposal that aims to block the protection of new parks, monuments, and historic sites around the country.

Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer’s (R) proposal, which is being offered as an amendment to a bill that would approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, would add additional paperwork and cost to every locally-driven conservation effort that requires federal designation or land purchase by a U.S. agency.

“This amendment’s clear aim is to slow and stop the protection of new parks in the U.S,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “But trying to tie red tape around everything from Civil War battlefields to local trails projects might be one of the most unpopular anti-environmental ideas the new Senate leadership could have possibly started with.”

A public opinion survey of more than 1,000 likely 2016 voters, released last week by the Center for American Progress, found that the idea of stopping the creation of new national parks and monuments is one of the most unpopular ideas that the new Congress is considering, with nearly seven out of ten respondents expressing opposition.

Critics of Senator Fischer’s proposal note that the barriers to new parks that the amendment creates, like requiring the Secretary of the Interior to prove that new designations do not impede other management, would likely be overcome easily, but not without unnecessary paperwork, additional time, and bureaucratic cost to taxpayers. The impacts of the amendment would extend to projects like fishing access points funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the protection of Civil War Battlefields, and the creation of new national wildlife refuges.

The Fischer amendment echoes a proposal introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK) in the House of Representatives last week that would strip current and future presidents’ authority to designate new national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Both Republican and Democratic presidents have used their authority under the Act to protect public lands and historic sites, including many of the country’s most iconic places such as the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty.

Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser.

Large National Parks Expansion Attached To Defense Authorization Bill

by Kurt Repanshek (via NationalParksTraveler.com)

In what could be the most significant legislative action pertaining to national parks since 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives is being asked to approve a defense authorization bill that has been amended to create a number of new units of to the National Park System, from a Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park in New York to a Manhattan Project National Historical Park spread across a handful of states. In the Senate, however, Ted Cruz is promising a battle if the House approves the measure.

The hefty, more than 1,600-page bill also contains measures to increase the size of some parks, would require the “modification” of wildlife buffers at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the latter a nod to an ongoing dispute over how the National Park Service works to protect threatened and endangered species of shorebirds and sea turtles, and allow for “donor recognition” within parks. Among the park-related aspects of the legislation, which could go to a full House vote Thursday and then on to the Senate next week, are:

  • Establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park across multiple states;
  • A provision to add the Ashland Harbor Breakwater Light to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin;
  • Create the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park “to help preserve, protect, and interpret the nationally significant resources that exemplify the industrial heritage of the Blackstone River Valley;”
  • Designation of a Coltsville National Historical Park in Connecticut;
  • Would redesignate the First State National Monument in Delaware as the First State National Historical Park;
  • Would adjust the boundaries of the Stephen Mather Wilderness at North Cascades National Park in Washington state to allow for realignment of the Stehekin Valley Road out of the flood plain;
  • Enlarge Oregon Caves National Monument by 4,070 acres, which would be contained in a “National Preserve” attached to the monument;
  • Would establish Tule Springs National Monument near Las Vegas;
  • Expansion of Cape Hatteras National Seashore;
  • Would create a nearly 90,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico and transfer it from the U.S. Forest Service to the National Park Service, and;
  • Would expand Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi.

Other provisions would require the Park Service to study other sites for possible inclusion in the park system. While the legislation also would allow recognition of donors to the parks within the park system, it specifically would prevent “recognition of the donor or any product or service of the donor as an official sponsor, or any similar form of recognition, of the National Park Service or the National Park System; a National Park Service endorsement of the donor or any product or service of the donor; or naming rights to any unit of the National Park System or a National Park System facility, including a visitor center.”

Read more here: http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2014/12/possible-congressional-battle-looming-over-parks-legislation-attached-defense-authorization-bill25993