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Michael Brune

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Obama's Monumental Opportunity

Posted: 04/ 2/2012 2:35 pm

If you could be president of the United States for one day, what would you do? I'd probably want to sneak in some batting practice at Yankee Stadium, quickly, because even for the most powerful person in the world, a single day isn't a lot of time to -- as the late Steve Jobs put it -- "make a dent in the universe."

The president, however, has a unique power. When Congress passed the Antiquities Act 106 years ago, it gave the commander in chief sole authority to designate public land as a national monument. Many of our most treasured wild places were first protected in this way, from Muir Woods to Joshua Tree to the Grand Canyon, which Teddy Roosevelt designated as a national monument in 1908.

How many millions of people have been inspired by what is now Grand Canyon National Park? My own first view of it was during a family trip out west when I was 14 years old; I still remember walking to the rim and being awestruck. The next day, we hiked to the bottom and my life was changed.

Last November, President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to protect Virginia's Fort Monroe, an important and symbolic Civil War site. It was an admirable first choice, but so far it has been his only choice. If I were president for a day, before trying to hit C.C. Sabathia's cutter, I'd take the opportunity to protect America's best wild places. Ask me today, and I'd start with these three:

Greater Canyonlands
National Monument designation of this area would protect one of the most remote and undeveloped places in the continental United States. The 1.4 million-acre proposed monument, adjacent to Canyonlands National Park in Utah would include the entire basin surrounding the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. The area is home to wildlife such as desert bighorn sheep and the Mexican grey wolf. A Canyonlands Monument would be the final piece in the puzzle of protected lands in this region, stretching from Wyoming to Arizona.

Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks
The Organ Mountains form the rugged backdrop to Las Cruces, New Mexico's second-largest city. The range is the most botanically diverse in the state, home to a rich assortment of ferns, lichens, mosses, and several species that exist nowhere else in the world. If protected with National Monumen status, it would provide outstanding recreational opportunities in some of the state's most iconic landscapes.

Arctic Refuge
The 1.5 million acres of coastal plain in the Arctic Refuge are truly one of America's last completely wild places. The vast grasslands support large populations of wildlife, including the Porcupine River caribou herd, three species of bears (the coastal plain is the largest polar bear denning area in the country), and millions of migratory birds. In addition, the area is sacred to Alaska's Gwich'in people, who depend on the Porcupine River caribou herd much as Great Plains Native Americans depended on bison.

There are many other deserving candidates -- the Sierra Club's Presidential Lands Legacy project has a long list I could choose from. In fact, earlier this year the Obama administration announced a 20-year ban on new mining on a million acres of public land near the Grand Canyon. When that 20 years is up, this region will still be priceless. Why not go a step further and permanently protect areas around the North Kaibab Plateau as a new Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument? It would be a boon to local communities, because in addition to protecting natural systems, national monuments sustain property values, attract new investment, and provide jobs.

That's what I'd do in my 24 hours as president. Not bad for one day's work. Think how big of a dent Obama could make in a year. Go wild, Mr. President, and show us what you can do!

One more thing: A little encouragement never hurts. Let the president know you support the designation of new national monuments.

 
 
 

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