Guest opinion: It’s our patriotic duty to protect national monuments
President Trump’s executive order that threatens the future of more than 50 national monuments directly challenges the worth of public lands around the country and especially here in the West.
As a longtime resident of southwest Colorado, I care deeply about the economic success of our region and the protection of our public lands and monuments. This order challenges the core values, cultural heritage and economy in Colorado and many other Western states.
One of 50 threatened areas listed in President Trump’s order is the Canyons of the Ancients near Mesa Verde. It has the highest known density of archaeological treasures in the U.S. and must be protected to prevent further looting of artifacts and desecration of the land.
The canyons and other area monuments received their special designations from former U.S. presidents using the Antiquities Act of 1906. Trump’s recent action could be the undoing of this 111-year-old law and of many local economies.
When an area is granted monument status, there’s no state or federal funding coming with that — but monuments become a stop on the tourist map where visitors spend money and create jobs. Areas near national monuments see economic growth, more jobs and increased personal income.
We’re thankful that — as of today — Chimney Rock is not on the targeted list. Still, it provides an example of the boost monument status brings. Since 2012, Chimney Rock has seen a 43 percent increase in visitors. With each yearly increase in visitation has come a corresponding boost to the area’s economy; since 2015, the monument has brought 1.5 million in additional dollars to the surrounding communities. Visitors to the monument spend an average of $145 every day and most visitors stay at least one night in the area.
Those kind of numbers are a big deal for any rural area. Rural western counties with more than 30 percent protected public lands have seen the number of jobs increase by 345 percent over areas without protected lands.
We hope that those who would discount the benefits of national monuments or try to overturn designations will listen to this story of economic good news from our little corner of the world.
The cultural heritage and significance of Canyons of the Ancients and many other monuments and sites protected by the Antiquities Act are crucially important to the American story. If the designation is removed or boundaries changed, cultural resources might be lost forever. It is our patriotic duty to protect these ancient and sacred sites for future generations.
Now that the gutting of the Antiquities Act has begun, we need our congressional delegation’s commitment to upholding and defending our national monuments and public lands. An attack on 50 monuments is an attack on all. This executive order makes it easier to target other sites in the future.
Chimney Rock Interpretive Association hopes the members of Colorado’s congressional delegation understand the positive economic impacts that these special designations have on western Colorado communities. We thank Sens. Bennet and Gardner and Congressman Tipton for their past support, and we now urge them to fight for our monuments, to protect our public lands and to respect the Antiquities Act.
Danyelle Leentjes is administrative director for the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association.
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