Letter to the Editor: Trump’s attacks on national monuments undermine their cultural values

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To truly appreciate the beauty and tranquility of California’s Desert national monuments, one simply has to experience them firsthand. When people visit the Desert for the first time, there is a moment of awe and fascination as they gaze upon the landscape and wildlife. These public lands belong to all of us, and are a precious part of our history and heritage.

That’s why my heart sank when President Trump issued two proclamations last month, orders aimed at eliminating protections from more than 2 million acres of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. This illegal action threatens our collective culture and identity, and would be the largest elimination of protected areas in U.S. history.

That same week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a report recommending changes to Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in Northern California, and allowing ‘traditional’ uses like mining, logging and drilling in protected areas. This is not what people wanted — in fact, more than 2.8 million Americans spoke out in support of national monuments during the Administration’s public comment period.

I have seen firsthand how much national monuments matter to people, because our local monuments are invaluable to me and my community. As a local leader for the Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM), I have the frequent privilege of exploring Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments. It’s my mission at COFEM to help Latinos of all ages experience the Desert, and learn more about the incredible values public lands like our monuments have to offer.

Recently, I led a group of 25 Latino kids and adults on a camping trip to Mission Creek in Sand to Snow National Monument. For many, this was their first experience overnight in the outdoors. They had the opportunity to camp, hike, explore, and learn about the many native species unique to this region — including eagles, rams, and wildflowers. One of the most memorable moments was a night hike during a full moon, which illuminated the desert terrain in a beautiful glow as far as the eye could see.

For many, the Desert is a significant part of their cultural heritage. Many of my ancestors, as well as descendants and members of the Chemehuevi, Paiute, and Mojave Tribes, call the Desert home. Teaching future generations about our past and shared history is exactly why the Desert national monuments were preserved in the first place.

The Administration’s attempt to dismantle our national monuments undermines the sanctity of these natural and cultural resources. These sacred sites provide a cultural anchor for residents and visitors alike, and were designated to preserve these values for all generations, past and future. We must honor and respect the wisdom of those who protected the land in the first place.

The Administration has made its intentions clear: over coming weeks, Trump will issue more proclamations aimed at eliminating protections for precious lands and ocean areas. Already, Secretary Zinke’s report puts eight more national monuments in Trump’s path of destruction. Tens of millions more acres of protected public lands and oceans could soon be sold out to commercial interests, from mining and drilling, to logging and industrial-scale fishing.

This is not what Americans stand for, and it’s not the future we want for our national monuments. I ask all Californians to join me in opposing the Administration’s actions, and to voice their outrage over this attack on protected public lands. These places belong to past, present, and future generations — I refuse to sit by idly and watch that slip away. Jesus Ortiz is an advocate and activist at the Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM).

Jesus Ortiz is an advocate and activist at the Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM).

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