Our view: Hands off national monuments
We were pleased this week with the news that Colorado U.S. Sen. Corey Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton had reached out to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, asking him not to make any changes in the status of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in far Southwestern Colorado. However, we’re also skeptical.
Canyons of the Ancients, in some ways a more remote, less-traveled adjunct to nearby Hovenweap National Monument, represents a treasure trove of archaeological sites, with startling numbers of sandstone ruins from an era when the Pueblo people were building cylindrical dwellings. Tipton accurately pointed out in the news release announcing the letter, that Canyons of the Ancients, with an estimated 6,355 cultural sites, is what Congress intended when it approved the Antiquities Act.
Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama have used the act to create new national monuments.
And to be fair, Colorado’s national monuments, for the most part, have been left out of the nationwide review. Can you imagine the outcry had Dinosaur National Monument been on the list? Still, incredibly, the monuments on the list to have their status reviewed include the upper Missouri River Breaks, which encompass portions of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
Also on the list are the Vermillion Breaks near the Grand Canyon, where people line up for permits to walk the stunning, striated sandstone formations. Even a monument in northern California that harbors ancient stands of redwoods is in jeopardy.
Could there be another reason that Tipton cares deeply about Canyons of the Ancients? It’s hard to overlook the fact that the boundary of the national monument is fewer than 10 miles from the city limits of Tipton’s hometown of Cortez.
The Denver Post reported this week that Canyons of the ancients draws about 30,000 visitors per year, and we can infer that a good share of those stop to spend money in Cortez. Anyone who visits the great national monuments of the American West knows they are appreciated by large numbers of travelers from Europe and Asia, who pump money into local economies.
Tipton does not empathize with our nation’s wild places. He turned his back on the roadless areas of the Thompson Divide region of the White River National Forest after it was reported that 65 oil leases there had been inappropriately granted by the BLM.
Westerners in Tipton’s sprawling 3rd Congressional District have watched with dismay as the under-funded national parks they love in Colorado and Utah have been overrun with traffic jams. When they’ve had enough of that, they graduate to the national monument, to where people who value solitude in vast natural spaces move from the national parks.
These public lands belong to all Americans and weren’t set aside solely for the benefit of energy and hard rock mining companies still prospering under archaic federal laws and policies made in the 19th century.
This land is your land, and it’s my land. But, America’s national monuments aren’t being protected just for our enjoyment. They are legacy lands, set aside for future generations.
Rep. Tipton, please tell President Donald Trump that Coloradans deeply value national monuments all across the American West. Ask him to keep his hands off them.
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