E&E News: Biden urged to create nine new national monuments

By Rob Hotakainen

A coalition of lawmakers, conservationists and tribal leaders Tuesday urged President Joe Biden to create nine new national monuments in seven states and to expand two that already exist in California.

The Golden State would be a major beneficiary with three new designations, including the proposed 628,000-acre Chuckwalla National Monument in the Southern California desert.

Speaking at a news conference on Capitol Hill, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) said he had just introduced a bill to establish the monument and to expand nearby Joshua Tree National Park by nearly 18,000 acres.

But he said it would happen more quickly if Biden used his executive power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to create the monument.

“We have a Republican majority in the House of Representatives who doesn’t quite share our commitment to protecting our land, but the good news is President Biden has the authority,” Padilla said.

At the news conference, officials announced that they had collected 800,000 signatures for a petition asking Biden to move quickly on the new designations.

“Today is a monumental day,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.). “Today is a day of advocacy for all national monuments, a day of petitioning to protect more public land in our country.”

Padilla teamed up Tuesday with Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) to sponsor the bill, while Ruiz introduced a companion bill in the House. Ruiz said the Chuckwalla monument would be the fifth-largest land-based monument in the United States.

Phil Francis, chair of the executive council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, said the creation of the Chuckwalla monument would help protect desert land “that serves as a habitat for an incredible amount of biodiversity” while also safeguarding many historic sites and resources that are culturally significant to Native American tribes.

Tribal official: ‘We stand united’
Other proposed designations would create the Sáttítla-Medicine Lake Highlands and Kw’tsán monuments in California, the Great Bend of the Gila monument in Arizona, the Dolores Canyons monument in Colorado, the 1908 Springfield Race Riot monument in Illinois, the Julius Rosenwald & Rosenwald Schools sites in Illinois and Maryland, Bahsahwahbee-Swamp Cedars in Nevada, and Owyhee Canyonlands in Oregon.

Thomas Tortez Jr., chair of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, said that Biden could help tribes by designating the monuments and ensure that “our stories, our traditions, our spiritual practices of our people are not lost.”

“We stand united for these monuments that are being proposed today,” he said. “We also have the opportunity to safeguard them for the generations to come.”

California is already expected to benefit if Biden acts to expand two popular monuments in the state: the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, both designated by former President Barack Obama. People familiar with the White House’s plans said they expect the president will act on those monuments soon.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who has long pursued the Berryessa expansion, told attendees at Tuesday’s press conference that he was optimistic that it would happen soon.

“We’re gonna get this done,” he said.

And Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said an expansion of the San Gabriel Mountains monument would provide more green space for underserved communities in the state.

“Los Angeles is among the most park-poor regions of the country,” she said.

The news conference closed with an appearance by Pattie Gonia, an environmental advocate and drag queen from Oregon who told the crowd: “We must protect each other, we must protect these beautiful lands, and we must protect Mother Nature.”

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