Trump aims attack at national monuments: 27 at risk

Bears Ears National Monument, UT

Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society

Here are some of the national monuments under attack, ranging from rare wildlife habitat to Native American archaeological ruins.

President Trump is ordering a "review" of at least 27 national monuments designated since the beginning of 1996, a sweeping action that is intended to shrink boundaries and reduce protections.

The executive order will mostly target monuments that are 100,000 acres or larger, ranging from rare wildlife habitat to Native American archaeological ruins, stretching from Maine to California to Pacific islands.

The monuments include those designated and supported by Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike—not to mention the American people, who have historically supported presidential land protections.

With this initial assault, all bets are off. Trump could be laying the legal groundwork for attacks on virtually any national monument in America.

These most immediately at-risk monuments and almost all others—plus a number of legendary national parks like Grand Canyon and Everglades--were first protected using a 1906 law called the Antiquities Act. It has been used on a bipartisan basis by almost every president to give special status to historic or natural landmarks on public lands.

Sadly, anti-conservation zealots in Congress have been gunning for the law for years, trying to make it harder for future presidents to protect landscapes and historic sites like these—or even reversing national monuments already on the books. In Trump, they appear to have an eager anti-parks ally.

Here are some of the monuments the Trump administration is likely targeting with this order:

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Utah)

Photo: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

Dramatic landscape is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument's calling card—as a report published by the Utah Geological Association put it, "Nowhere else in the world are the rocks and geologic features so well exposed, so brilliantly colored, and so excitingly displayed"--but there's a lot going on beneath the surface as well. It has yielded an unusual bounty of dinosaur fossils, including the major discovery of a close ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex. 

Speak up for Grand Staircase-Escalante

Bears Ears National Monument (Utah)

Photo: by Mason Cummings (TWS).

Designated by President Obama in 2016 in response to a coalition of Native American tribes with direct ties to the region, Bears Ears National Monument represented the first time Native tribes had ever joined forces to ask a president to designate a national monument. The reason why is no mystery: Bears Ears is estimated to contain some 100,000 Native American archaeological and ancestral sites. The region itself is named for two sandstone-fringed buttes jutting about 2,000 feet up from the mesa that somewhat resemble an ursine head poking over the horizon. Wildlife that calls the area home includes pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, black bears and peregrine falcons.

Speak up for Bears Ears

Hanford Reach National Monument (Washington)

Hanford Reach National Monument was created in 2000, mostly from the former security buffer surrounding the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The area has been untouched by development or agriculture since 1943, to the benefit of bountiful wildlife in the area like mule deer, elk and bald eagles.

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument (California)

Photo: Mason Cummings (TWS).

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument protects national forest lands that make up more than 70 percent of Los Angeles County’s scarce open space. The monument serves as an unconventional Southern California “backyard” -- miles of wild terrain including majestic mountain peaks, clear rivers and countless recreational opportunities for urban communities that might otherwise not have access to nature.

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument (Arizona)

Photo: Bob Wick (BLM).

Established by President Bill Clinton near the end of his time in office, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument covers more than 1 million acres of spectacular scenery, ranging from desert to grassland to ponderosa pine forest, against the northern boundary of Grand Canyon National Park. It roughly doubled the amount of greater Grand Canyon land protected among national parks and monuments, and now contains four designated wilderness areas. It is considered a great spot for backpacking and nature-viewing, and has even been recognized as one of the best places in the country to see starry night skies.

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument (New Mexico)

Photo: Bob Wick (BLM).

This area in Doña Ana County has long been prized for its rugged landscape, historical and archaeological sites and pockets of solitude, spread across thousands of acres encompassing the Organ, Sierra de las Uvas, Dona Ana and Potrillo Mountain Complexes. The region is considered a crown jewel of the southern Rockies, including a stretch of iconic land that abounds with dramatic mountain peaks, colorful plants, sprightly antelope and majestic birds of prey.

Ironwood Forest National Monument (Arizona)

Named for a seemingly unremarkable desert tree that comes alive with purple flowers each spring, Ironwood Forest National Monument was designated by President Clinton in the year 2000 to protect a stretch of rugged mountains and prized archaeological sites. The monument contains habitat for tortoises, bighorn sheep and other iconic American wildlife.

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (Oregon)

Photo: BLM.

Lying at the nexus of the Cascade, Siskiyou and Klamath mountain ranges, Cascade-Siskiyou is a stretch of wildlands that President Bill Clinton called "an ecological wonder." It was first monument whose protection was motivated specifically by the need to preserve biodiversity--within its boundaries lie grassland, mixed conifer and white fir forests, harboring elk, black bears and a dizzying array of birds—and President Obama expanded it in early 2017.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Photo: Greg McFall (NOAA), flickr.

President George W. Bush established Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006, and President Obama expanded it in 2016. The boundaries protects teeming communities of marine life including habitat for whales, sea turtles and tropical fish, while preserving important living laboratories to study the effects of climate change.

Basin and Range National Monument (Nevada)

Photo: Tyler Roemer, courtesy of Conservation Lands Foundation.

Basin and Range preserves slices of prehistoric and pioneer life –from 13,000 year old spear points to pioneer ranching and mining sites. At the heart of the landscape are the Garden and Coal Valleys in south central Nevada, surrounded by eight mountain ranges known for their near-pristine condition. The monument also surrounds “City,” a gigantic earthen sculpture informed by pre-Columbian architecture that artist Michael Heizer has been working on for decades.

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (Montana)

Containing the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, the most popular segment of the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail and 149 miles of the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River, Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is a truly diverse and breathtaking landscape. This rugged stretch of bluffs and badlands (and the namesake Upper Missouri River) provides habitat for elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer and dozens of species of fish.

Mojave Trails National Monument (California)

Photo: John Dittli

Bridging the area between Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve, Mojave Trails National Monument protects a stunning array of desert plant life and essential habitat for desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, eagles, falcons and a wide variety of reptiles. The monument includes 350,000 acres of previously designated wilderness, along with the Pisgah Lava Flow, Marble Mountain Fossil Beds and the most intact stretch of historic Route 66. 

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

Nearly 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, Pacific Remote Islands National Monument and the surrounding waters are home to a large population of sharks, rays and other predatory fish, the depletion of which threatens ocean ecosystems across the planet. This lesser-known paradise teems with atolls and reefs hosting a diverse array of life, from multi-hued coral colonies to huge, placid sea turtles to boisterous birds.

Sand to Snow National Monument (California)

Photo: Mason Cummings (TWS)

Sand to Snow National Monument encompasses a tract of land between Joshua Tree National Park and the San Bernardino National Forest that stretches from the Sonoran Desert floor to Southern California's tallest alpine peak, Mount San Gorgonio. It includes rivers, wetlands, desert landscapes and Joshua tree woodlands, not to mention 100,000 acres of existing wilderness. It’s also home to the headwaters of the Santa Ana—Southern California's longest river, as well as the headwaters of the Whitewater River and its accompanying wetlands—providing habitat for migrating birds, including yellow-breasted chat and vermilion flycatchers.

Gold Butte National Monument (Nevada)

Photo: Mason Cummings (TWS).

Protected by President Obama, not only is Gold Butte National Monument home to thousands of Native American petroglyphs, but it contains historic mining- and pioneer-era artifacts; rare and threatened wildlife such as the Mojave desert tortoise and desert bighorn sheep; dramatic rock formations; and fossil track-sites dating back 170 to 180 million years ago. It is also a prime spot for hiking, hunting, birding, camping, off-road vehicle use on designated trails and many other activities. 

Craters of the Moon National Monument (Idaho)

Designated in 1924, Craters of the Moon is under review because it was expanded in the year 2000. The monument resembles a pockmarked lunar landscape because ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed the area in lava, now hardened and scattered with cinder cones and sagebrush. Indeed, the area was used as a training site for lunar-bound 1960s astronauts. Despite this bare, otherworldly appearance, fauna include ground squirrels, bats, mule deer and a variety of birds. 

Carrizo Plain National Monument (California)

Photo: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

Created by President Clinton in early 2001, Carrizo Plain National Monument is the biological cornerstone for the San Joaquin Valley, a protected refuge for the many endemic and endangered plant and animal species that inhabit the area. Best known for its extraordinary wildflower displays, Carrizo Plains is the largest single native grassland remaining in a western state.

Sonoran Desert National Monument (Arizona)

Sonoran Desert National Monument is site of an exceptional array of archaeological and cultural sites. Home to thick "forests" of saguaro cactus, buffered by three craggy mountain ranges and wide, sandy valleys, it is the picturesque ideal of an American desert. Amid the striking terrain are traces of people who called the area home one thousand years ago or more, including delicate petroglyphs, or rock art.  

Marianas Trench Marine National Monument

Marianas Trench Marine National Monument includes no dry land area, but protects 95,216 square miles of submerged lands and waters in various places in the Mariana Archipelago.

Giant Sequoia National Monument (California)

Photo: Melissa Wiese, flickr.

Giant Sequoia National Monument contains 33 groves reserved for the eponymous tree species, among the largest organisms on earth (giant sequoias can reach 300 feet in height and 35 feet across). This treasured piece of the southern Sierra Nevada also features limestone caverns, granite rock formations and bountiful wildlife habitat. Popular recreational activities in the greater national forest include fishing, hiking and camping.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (Colorado)

Photo: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

Reputed to contain the greatest density of archaeological cultural sites in America, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument protects an archaeologically rich landscape of primarily Ancestral Puebloan ruins recording some 10,000 years of human habitationThousands of archaeological sites have been recorded in the monument area to date, including up to 100 per square mile in some places--perhaps the highest density of such sites anywhere in the U.S. Hiking and horseback riding are among popular outdoor recreation activities in the monument.

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument (California)

Photo: Bob Wick (BLM).

A short drive from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento, Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument is highlighted by lush forests and meadows. The area is renowned locally for its outdoor recreation opportunities and abundant wildlife like tule elk, mountain lions and bald eagles. It contains habitat ranging from lush oak woodland to clear creeks and fields of wildflowers. Local businesses and others lobbied for Berryessa Snow Mountain to be protected for years before President Obama got it done in 2015.

Rose Atoll Marine National Monument (American Samoa)

Established by President George W. Bush near the end of his time in office, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument encompasses the Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, and is a nesting site for rare species of petrels, shearwaters and terns.

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument (New Mexico) 

Photo: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument protects some of the most ecologically significant lands in northern New Mexico, including Ute Mountain, which towers over the region and provides excellent habitat for a wide array of species, including elk, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and great horned owl. The monument also preserves the vast recreational opportunities enjoyed by many within the Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau, such as hiking, biking, camping, rafting, hunting and fishing.

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

Photo: NOAA OKEANOS Explorer Program, flickr.

 Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, in the Atlantic Ocean, encompasses a series of underwater canyons and seamounts (inactive, submerged volcanoes jutting from the ocean floor) near where the continental shelf plummets into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. This area benefits from oxygen- and nutrient-rich cold sea water as well as the fact that much of it has been spared from human disruption, making it a priceless place for scientific study and preservation of rare species. 

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (Arizona) 

Photo: Marc Adamus

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is among the highlights of the Colorado Plateau, a geological formation that reaches into Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Backpacking, camping and wildlife-watching are popular pastimes, and a large chunk of the monument is protected as the 30-year-old Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, home to some of the most unearthly vistas in the American southwest.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (Maine)

Photo: Elliottsville Plantation, Inc.

The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument took a nontraditional path to monument status--Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of the Burt’s Bees skin-care company, purchased thousands of acres in Maine's north woods, mostly from timber companies, and donated that land to the National Park Service. Given monument status by President Obama, the area includes vital habitat for moose, bear, lynx and Atlantic salmon. These animals require large ranges to maintain viable populations, and the monument ensures a secure corridor for them as well as protecting important habitat for some rare and endangered plant and insect species.

Other monuments potentially at risk

While Trump's executive order "only" immediately targets 27 national monuments, it is considered to be a means of laying the groundwork for attacks on many other parks and monuments, including some that don't meet the 100,000 acres threshold. Here are a few others established since 1996 that might fall under scrutiny--and eventually reduced protection.

Browns Canyon National Monument (Colorado)

Photo: Mason Cummings (TWS)

President Obama officially designated monument protection for this unique landscape along the east bank of the Arkansas River, an outdoor recreation hotspot that is well known for its whitewater rafting, fishing and hiking. The spectacular outdoor playground generates more than $55 million per year in economic activity for the local economy. Additionally, the area features abundant high quality wildlife habitat for a variety of birds and animals including peregrine falcons, golden eagles, big horn sheep and elk herds.

César E. Chávez National Monument (California)

Photo: Ruben Andrade (NPS).

This monument encompasses the property that was home and eventually final resting place for the iconic civil rights leader César E. Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW). Chávez was himself a migrant farm worker in his youth, and rose to become one of the 20th century's most influential labor figures. President Obama designated the monument in 2012.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (Hawaii, Alaska, California)

Photo: NPS

Several key aspects of World War II’s Pacific theater are commemorated in this wide-ranging monument. Chief among the sites it preserves is the sunken USS Arizona, where many of the 1,177 officers and crewmen were killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, America’s “date which will live in infamy.” More than 1.8 million visitors come to the memorial each year, attesting to its important role in preserving history.

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (Washington DC)

This became one of precious few national public land units that specifically commemorates women’s history when President Obama established it on Equal Pay Day in 2016. It marks the former headquarters of the National Woman’s Party, which fought to expand our democracy through ratification of the 19th Amendment.

California Coastal National Monument

Photo: Mason Cummings (TWS)

Scenic coastal habitat harbors wildlife including sea lions, beavers, shore birds and raptors in California Coastal National Monument. Perhaps the two most famous threatened species found in the area are Behren’s silverspot butterfly and the Mount Point Arena mountain beaver. Other highlights include Historic Point Arena Lighthouse. The monument was originally designated by President Clinton and later expanded by President Obama (twice).

Stonewall National Monument (New York)

Photo: Razlan, flickr.

Stonewall is the first monument saluting LGBT rights and history. Long recognized on the list of national historic landmarks, Stonewall Inn was the site of a formative moment for the LGBT community and civil rights movement--a 1969 police raid and ensuing riots and protests that marked considered a turning point in the gay rights and larger civil rights movements, a galvanizing moment for a community long neglected and forced to the margins of society. 

Harriet Tubman National Monument (Maryland)

Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program, flickr.

Harriet Tubman National Monument celebrates the great abolitionist and woman known as “Moses of her People." As the most well-known conductor on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman lead almost 70 enslaved people to their freedom. Tubman’s spirit resonates here in the land, water and sky. President Obama recognized the site's significance with monument designation in 2013.

African Burial Ground National Monument (New York)

Photo: Wally Gobetz, flickr.

In 1991, what began as a construction project in lower Manhattan led to an important archaeological find: The site of a graveyard containing the remains of about 15,000 free and enslaved Africans buried in the late 17th century. Today, the spot is a national monument, designated by President George W. Bush, and a wall of remembrance honors those who once gathered here to celebrate their ancestral heritage.

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument (Alabama)

Photo: Wayne Taylor, flickr.

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument includes several sites with a deep connection to the civil rights struggle of the mid-20th century. A.G. Gaston Motel, named one of the U.S.' "most endangered" historic places in 2015, served as a refuge for minorities when Birmingham was otherwise deeply segregated, and also became planning headquarters for Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders during the 1960s. Also included are the famed 16th Street Baptist Church, site of a 1963 church bombing that killed four young girls and proved a galvanizing moment for the civil rights movement; the adjacent Kelly Ingram Park, site of major civil rights demonstrations; and Bethel Baptist Church, headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and a target of racist violence.

San Juan Islands National Monument (Washington)

Photo: Stephen Baker (BLM), flickr.

This landscape was declared a national monument by President Obama along with four other sites in 2013, and the honor has only boosted its standing as a great regional and national attraction. This archipelago in Puget Sound may be best known for a series of historic lighthouses, but it lays claim to an abundance of natural beauty as well: sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and hiking trails make it an increasingly popular destination for travelers. Animal inhabitants of the islands and their immediate area include black-tail deer, river otter, mink and marine life like orcas and seals.