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Despite sequester, Obama to designate five national monuments

- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2013

Even as President Obama highlights impending cuts to national parks because of the sequester, he plans to use his power as president to designate five new national monuments Monday, according to an administration official.

The new monuments will be: the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico; the San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington State; the First State National Monument in Delaware and Pennsylvania; the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio and a monument commemorating Harriet Tubman and her role in helping black slaves reach freedom through the the Underground Railway in Maryland.

Rick Smith, of the Coalition of National Park Retirees, said that the president acted because Congress had failed to enact legislation creating more parks and protected sites.

"Americans support and want more parks and monuments because they boost local economies, preserve our national heritage and tell our diverse American story," Mr. Smith told the paper. "In particular, all Americans can be proud with the establishment of the First State National Monument in Delaware — all 50 states are now home to an area included in our National Park System."

Mr. Obama will use the Antiquities Act, a law dating back to 1906, to designate the national monuments. Sixteen presidents have used the law — from Theodore Roosevelt to Mr. Obama — to protect natural, historical and cultural areas such as the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty, but recent Republican Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon have preferred to allow Congress to make those designations.

Earlier this month, the White House and the National Park Service warned that the across-the-board sequester spending cuts would deal a blow to the parks just as they are trying to gear up for the summer tourism season.

Jon Jarvis, NPS director, said the sequester could mean canceled parades and dirty bathrooms with 3,000 jobs within the agency affected, many of which are temporary employees just starting their season.

Despite budget cuts and Mr. Obama's dire warnings of the disruptive economic impact of the sequester in recent weeks, a coalition of local leaders and small business owners say the new monuments, especially the Rio Grande del Norte and the San Juan Islands designations, will have a positive impact on the local economies.

More than 150 local businesses support the land's permanent protection, and the coalition estimates it will bring $15 million to the local economy a year.

"We celebrate the new Rio Grande el Norte National Monument because it means these beautiful public lands that lure tourists, new residents and entrepreneurs to Taos will always be protected," said Jamie Tedesco, executive director of the Taos Green Chamber of Commerce.

According to a National Parks and Conservation Association Study, in 2006 every federal dollar invested in national parks generated at least $4 of economic value for businesses surrounding the parks. National parks are responsible for $13.3 billion dollars of local, private-sector economic activity nationwide, supporting 267,000 private-sector jobs, according to the Department of Interior.

Environmental groups, which have criticized Mr. Obama for favoring more oil and gas development over setting aside federal land for conservation and recreation, hailed the move.

The Wilderness Society was particularly encouraged by the plan to designate the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico, in addition to the four other cultural and natural landmarks across the United States.

The Rio Grande del Norte includes some of the most ecologically significant lands in northern New Mexico, including the Ute Mountain, which towers over the region and provides habitat for elk, bald eagle, peregrine falcon and the great horned owl, the Society said in a release, the Society said. The new national monument will also protect vast recreational land enjoyed by many in the Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau for hiking, biking, camping, rafting, hunting and fishing.

"Protecting our lands and waters can't wait," said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society. "Protecting the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument demonstrates President Obama's commitment to conservation, and we join the local community in thanking the president for this legacy for future generations to enjoy."

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