AAAS and ESA Seek Ongoing Protections for Monuments

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Among the more than two dozen monuments being scrutinized by the Trump administration is the Carrizo Plain National Monument in southeastern California with its miles and miles of grasslands and areas that provide a geological platform to study the San Andreas Fault. | Steve Corey/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Two leading scientific organizations are urging the Trump administration to consider the extensive “scientific, cultural and historical significance” of 27 national monuments placed in safekeeping by three previous presidents in its review of whether to limit or end the protections now preserving the sites.   

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific organization, and the Ecological Society of America, the world’s largest community of professional ecologists, pointed to the extensive value of the 27 federal land and marine monuments that could be lost if federal protective status is lessened or removed in a public comment the two organizations submitted to the Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on July 7.

President Donald Trump on April 26 ordered the heads of the Interior Department and NOAA to review protections put in place under the 1906 Antiquities Act that permits presidents to limit the use federal lands and waters by designating them as monuments or parks. While the law does not require public comments, the Trump administration invited public comments before July 10. 

The protections safeguard some of the “nation’s natural and cultural heritage,” provide extensive educational and recreational resources, produce thousands of research opportunities across scientific disciples that have yielded information about everything from earthquakes to fire control, and bring economic benefits to nearby towns and regions, AAAS and ESA said in their public comments.

“Our national monuments have been celebrated by U.S. presidents, starting with Theodore Roosevelt who used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create the first national monuments. Fifteen presidents since, from both political parties, have used the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments,” stated the two organizations. “The American people treasure the resource of these shared public lands, as indicated by the 331 million visits to National Park Service sites in 2016.”

The organizations specified in their public comment the broad scientific, historical and recreational benefits of 11 sites – four in California, two each in Hawaii and New Mexico, and one each in Oregon, Utah and Maine – and detailed how research being conducted in these areas “demonstrate the importance of these jewels of nature and the myriad ways they contribute to science.”

The Carrizo Plain National Monument in southeastern California’s San Luis Obispo County, for instance, covers miles of grasslands and is home to a segment of the San Andreas Fault, an area that has yielded important geological information on the threat of earthquakes in San Francisco, Los Angeles and many smaller communities near the fault, the two organizations stated.

With its tens of thousands of acres of forests and grasslands extending from southwestern Oregon to northwestern California, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is the first monument specifically designated to protect biodiversity and has been the site of ecological studies on “changes in fire pattern, frequency and intensity” impacting many western states, the organizations noted.

The North Maine Woods holds one of the most recent monuments – the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument – and while the protections afforded it have been in place only a year, already recreational activities and tourism to the remote area have helped improve its economy, the two organizations said.

”Each of the monuments offers unique contributions and we urge the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to carefully analyze these and other examples of the scientific, economic and cultural value of the monuments,” the comment stated. The two organizations concluded, “Undertaking a thorough review of national monuments requires input from scientific experts. AAAS and ESA request the Department of the Interior and NOAA to ensure that careful analysis is forthcoming and transparent during the review process.” 

[Associated image:  Mojave Trails National Monument in California| Bob Wick, BLM/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]