Hello 2015! At the start of the New Year I often find myself looking ahead to what may come, eagerly anticipating new opportunities and preparing for new challenges. Looking ahead also requires celebrating victories in 2014.
Last year nearly 900,000 acres of public lands were permanently protected by the President alone. President Obama designated three new national monuments -- Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands in California, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico, and the San Gabriel Mountains just outside Los Angeles. He also greatly expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean by over 250 million acres. All of these designations were widely supported and praised.
Yet lost in the holiday shuffle were two other important signs of conservation progress. The Obama administration held public hearings to discuss adding two very special places to our nation's legacy of protected public lands. The first, Browns Canyon in Colorado, is one of the country's most popular white-water rafting and premiere trout fishing destinations. Its breath-taking combination of rushing water, upland ridges, and dry valleys provide a beautiful backdrop for all types of outdoor experiences year-round. The area is also important for elk, deer, and bighorn sheep.
The second special place, California's Berryessa Snow Mountain, although much different in topography, is also a haven for wildlife and recreationists. Visitors can encounter more than eighty species of butterfly, hike or ride horses through the scenic beauty, or enjoy a wetter perspective from a kayak on the water. The area's proximity to the Bay Area and Central Valley provide important opportunities for a diversity of people to connect with nature.
It's unsurprising that both of these spectacular places have broad and diverse support ranging from local officials and community leaders to conservationists and business groups. Hundreds of people turned out for the public hearings held by the Administration and overwhelmingly spoke in favor of protecting these places as national monuments.
That's a trend I expect to continue throughout 2015. There is tremendous and growing demand from Americans across the country for our leaders to take action to safeguard our public lands. The healthy recreation opportunities and the clean air and water these lands provide support a high quality of life for many who visit or live near these natural wonders. They are places that are also increasingly important for the growing outdoor recreation economy -- an economy not subject to the boom and bust cycles associated with dirty fuel development.
While a small but vocal minority continues to push for selling off our public lands to fossil fuel interests and developers it's clear that the vast majority of Americans value our outdoor legacy and would like to see more done to protect our public lands. Unfortunately it doesn't appear that the new Congress will be ready to heed that desire. In fact, it is poised to do the opposite.
President Obama however has shown that he is willing to respond to the will of the people. During his tenure so far he's designated 13 new national monuments. As 2015 gets underway I look forward with hope to additional designations. Browns Canyon and Berryessa Snow Mountain are good places to start.