Gov't drops California monument from elimination list; others on the block

By Beixi Xu   |   Aug. 21, 2017 at 6:51 AM
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U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced last week that the Sand to Snow National Monument in the Southern California desert is safe from the government's plan to eliminate national monuments.

The Department of the Interior said it may issue a decision on whether to close a number of other monuments on Thursday.

Sand to Snow, a 154,000-acre monument that includes 30 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, was created last year by then-President Barack Obama. It is the first California monument that Zinke promised to release from a list of sites that could be marked for elimination.

"The land of Sand to Snow National Monument is some of the most diverse terrain in the West, and the monument is home to incredible geographic, biologic, and archaeological history of our nation," said Zinke in a news release.

In April, Trump ordered federal officials to review two decades of national monument designations, and charged that Obama's designation of monuments during his eight-year term had been "egregious abuse of federal power." Trump said reducing the number of sites was intended to open up more federal land to drilling, mining and other development.

Six other national monuments in California and 27 around the country are still under review.

California lawmaker Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, whose district includes the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, led the charge in the legislature to pass a bipartisan resolution in favor of protecting several monuments under review.

"It's really important to my region," said Aguiar-Curry at a Wilderness Society conference. "I personally worked very hard to get this monument passed, starting at the grassroots level, working with stakeholders, farmers ... I worked with cattle ranchers, I worked with horseback associations, off road vehicle associations, the Wilderness Society, with the Sierra Clubs -- we've worked with everyone to make sure we had ample public outreach that people understood what the importance was to save this big beautiful area."

Participants in a Wilderness Society conference on Wednesday said that concerns about monuments extend beyond California.

Blake Spaulding, a restaurant owner in the Boulder Mountain area of Utah, expressed concern about the impact a closure would have on local businesses. She said the neighboring Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is vital to the local economy and her thriving restaurant. Without it, her 50-employee business might not survive.

"Without the monument, our business wouldn't exist," Spaulding said. "Last year, our county did $78 million with the tourism-based business, much of them due directly to the monument."

During the public review process, 2.7 million people submitted comments opposing changes to the monuments on the Department of the Interior website, according to the Wilderness Society.

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