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As we celebrate National Public Lands Day on Saturday, September 24th, we should take time to explore the parks, rivers, forests, deserts, mountains, and other public lands in our communities. We should also commit to protecting more historic, cultural, and ecological resources special places for current and future generations.
Senior officials in the Biden administration have visited three sites over the last few weeks. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland met with Tribal and local leaders at Avi Kwa Ame on September 7th while Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Camp Hale and Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo toured Castner Range on August 16th. They heard from supporters on the ground and witnessed firsthand the need to protect the historic, cultural and ecological resources. Now it is time for President Biden to act by following the locally led efforts to protect landscapes and designating three new national monuments.
Leaders in Washington must accelerate efforts to reach America’s first-ever conservation goal of protecting 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. It’s time for the Biden-Harris administration to designate new national monuments and for Congress to pass legislation to establish new wilderness areas and preserve landscapes from polluters and development all while supporting the outdoor recreation economy and making access to nature more equitable.
In Colorado, the Camp Hale-Continental Divide area covers the Camp, the Tenmile Range and a section of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. It speaks to the storied legacy of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Colorado, who trained at Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range, led our nation to victory in World War II, and later created the outdoor industry in Colorado as we know it today. The landscape is both an important habitat and connective corridor for wildlife and a beloved destination for outdoor recreation. The effort to designate this area a national monument is supported by Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, Governor Jared Polis, and Congressman Joe Neguse along with other local officials.
Avi Kwa Ame spans nearly 450,000 acres in the Mojave Desert in southern Nevada. The area hosts biological, cultural, and recreational resources and is considered sacred by ten Yuman speaking tribes as well as the Hopi and Chemehuevi Paiute as it is tied to their creation, history, and well-being. The proposed monument is supported by Congresswomen Dina Titus and Susie Lee, the local governments, and chambers of commerce, along with 70 percent of Nevadans.
Finally, Castner Range, near El Paso, Texas, is part of a series of mountains that act as a natural flood buffer and water filtration system. Its unique landscape is home to rare wildlife and sacred Native American sites including rock shelters, petroglyphs, and habitations dating back 10,000 years. The community has worked to protect Castner Range for more than half a century and the effort is championed by Congresswoman Veronica Escobar and local leaders.
While the president can take important action, Congress also has a critical role in protecting our public lands and waters and should pass vitally important bills this year. This includes the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act which would conserve majestic public lands and rivers in Arizona, Colorado, California, Washington and other states. The bill would help nature-deprived communities access parks and public lands, protect areas sacred to Indigenous peoples, ensure clean and safe drinking water, and preserve wildlife habitat. Rep. Diana DeGette, House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva and others are leading efforts to get this package enacted into law.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide the most significant investment in the conservation and restoration of wildlife and plant species in a generation. In the United States today, many wildlife species are declining, with one third of species already imperiled or vulnerable and an increasing number at risk of becoming endangered. This legislation would be the first and only federal conservation program that guarantees sustained funding to Tribal Nations for fish and wildlife preservation, one reason it’s supported by more than 100 Tribal Nations. The bill will support our nation’s outdoor industry by helping provide more recreational opportunities for all people in this country who already spend a combined $140 billion dollars on wildlife-focused recreation annually. Rep. Debbie Dingell and Senators Martin Heinrich and Roy Blunt are leading this bill that has already passed the House on a strong bipartisan vote.
Finally, we all can join the celebrations and volunteer opportunities for National Public Lands Day at events across the country. There is no greater reminder of the importance of protecting more beautiful places than to enjoy the ones we have. We can all experience first-hand the value of these parks, lands and waters, while we urge our leaders to do even more.
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Tiernan Sittenfeld is the Senior Vice President of League of Conservation Voters (LCV). All photos are courtesy of Honor Avi Kwa Ame coalition.