- - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One hundred and 14 years ago, our great-great-grandfathers camped together for three nights in Yosemite National Park. Those nights in 1903 have been called “the camping trip that changed America.” Each day, while exploring the mountains and forests, Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir discussed the importance of preserving America’s natural treasures. Each night, seated by a campfire, they planned out legal safeguards that could protect the wondrous land passed down from generation to generation.

The work of two men paid off. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law. The new law gave the president of the United States the authority to create national monuments from federal lands in order to immediately safeguard significant natural, cultural or scientific resources. Today the Antiquities Act remains one of our nation’s most important conservation tools. Since its adoption, 16 presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, have used it to designate more than 150 national monuments. Each monument represents a rich chapter of our nation’s story: Muir Woods, the Statue of Liberty, the nine sites of Valor in the Pacific. Many, such as Death Valley Monument, were later converted into national parks by congressional action.

Last year the National Park System celebrated its centennial year with the highly successful “Find Your Park” nationwide campaign. Visits to our parks surpassed 330 million, an all-time record. The national parks are, as Wallace Stegner once said, America’s “best idea.” They are a physical embodiment of our deepest ideals, visible proof that the nation belongs to the people. Today we acknowledge just how lucky we are to hold these special places in common with all Americans.

We also bear in mind our collective responsibility to assure that they are protected for the future. On April 26, President Trump issued an executive order instructing the secretary of the Interior to review designations made since 1996, apparently with an eye to revoking or modifying those deemed inappropriate. (While there is broad consensus that the president lacks power to revoke a designation unilaterally, he may be able to reduce the size of an existing monument.)

The decision to re-evaluate the legitimacy and size of the most recent designations, including Bears Ears National Monument, is of serious concern, and the president’s decision to support — or not support — these most recent National Monument designations will have a profound impact. The national parks and monuments show the beauty of America, and they tell our story. To revoke or diminish a monument is to tear a page from the book of our nation. We urge the secretary of the Interior to fully recognize the innate value of each and every national park and monument that has been designated under the Antiquities Act, and ask the president to recognize the enormous public benefit that these treasures provide our great nation today, and for all future generations of Americans to protect and enjoy.

We feel a special connection to the National Parks because of our relation to two men who together did so much to develop the system we have today. But all Americans should come together to defend them. The National Parks belong to us all, and, more important, to those who are yet to come. We betray our values — we betray our future — if we sacrifice our common heritage to narrow interests. “The nation behaves well,” said Theodore Roosevelt, “if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value.” John Muir was more blunt. “God has cared for these trees,” he wrote, “saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.

• Robert Hanna is the great-great-grandson of the naturalist John Muir, and an advocate for the protection and preservation of wild lands. Kermit Roosevelt III is the great-great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and a professor of constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.


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