There is significant concern by sportsmen surrounding the federal government’s review of designated National Monuments across the country. While these concerns are legitimate in a broad sense, there needs to be some education on why these reviews actually could be better for the natural resources, wildlife and the public who enjoy them.
The United States’ Antiquities Act provides a way to crown federal public lands with the special distinction of National Monument to protect historical landmarks and lands of scientific interest. Problems arise, however, when the designation limits vital land management practices and how people can use these public lands.
Sportsmen and women depend on access both to help manage the lands and waters that support fish and wildlife, and also to enjoy their pursuits. For both to continue, designations need to be locally driven, transparent, incorporate science-based management, conserve important fish and wildlife habitat, and uphold hunting and fishing opportunities. Otherwise, stakeholders will continue to be excluded, and support for federal ownership and management of lands will suffer.
Monuments are considered capstones of conservation, but important details have been overlooked. All Monument designations are applied to existing federal public lands, which makes it easy to proclaim conservation success on paper. But what goes into a true conservation success is a combination of actual work on the land and the appreciation the public gets by visiting the land. This requires professional conservation managers doing the work and people with varied recreational interests given opportunity to appreciate the results. Both need access for conservation to work.
While well intended, designation of large tracts of public lands as Monuments without provision for access can lead to a loss of conservation value. Restricted recreational access and reduced management of wildlife habitats can lead to dwindling wildlife populations and less community involvement on the management of lands in their backyards.
The Department of the Interior’s review brings forward vital issues of assuring the future of federal public lands and improving their ecological, economic and recreational value. If the public, especially local communities, do not support the designations, the value is diminished in their eyes. If the lack of management results in reduced wildlife populations, loss of recreational opportunities, and local economies are hurt as a result, support will wane for federal land ownership in general — National Monument or otherwise.
In recent years, proclamations have removed guarantees for recreational access and hunting from management plans.
The 21,000-acre Castle Mountains National Monument in California shows how inadequate “public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders” can sacrifice access. Designation of this monument late in the previous administration eliminated hunting access.
The Río Grande Del Norte National Monument offers excellent hunting opportunities, but these are no longer guaranteed by its proclamation. This 242,455-acre tract in New Mexico is now under pressure to stop hunting through the management plan in development.
Another example is California’s Sand-to-Snow National Monument, designated last year. This proclamation acknowledges the 154,000-acre area “provides … hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, and horseback riding,” yet these values are not guaranteed by the order.
We applaud the review of these and other monuments and urge the Department of Interior to use its results to strengthen the legacy of federal public lands in the United States.
Conservation is people and nature: not always both in the same place, but always together in the big picture. Let’s keep that mind as the Department of Interior conducts their reviews, and let’s seize new conservation opportunities and get lost ones back.
Paul Phillips is co-chair of conservation policy with the Boone and Crockett Club; Rebecca A. Humphries is chief executive officer of the National Wild Turkey Federation; Gray Thornton is chief executive officer of the Wild Sheep Foundation.