Updated Spreadsheet of Obama National Monument Designations and Expansions

President Barack Obama has designated or increased the size of 34 national monuments. This spreadsheet provides details:

National Monument Date Established or Enlarged Land or Marine? State or Territory Size (acres) Agency Notes Link to Proclamation Link to White House Fact Sheet
Basin and Range 7/10/2015 Land Nevada 704,000 BLM https://tinyurl.com/jfqgpyy https://tinyurl.com/zyjenj9
Bears Ears 12/28/2016 Land Utah 1,350,000 BLM/USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/j5rfg4h https://tinyurl.com/jfty68p
Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality 4/12/2016 Land Washington, D.C. <1 NPS https://tinyurl.com/zn73ju3 https://tinyurl.com/q99tgx4
Berryessa Snow Mountain 7/10/2015 Land California 330,380 BLM/USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/j7ujohj https://tinyurl.com/zyjenj9
Birmingham Civil Rights 1/12/2017 Land Alabama 1 NPS https://tinyurl.com/hc2vlco https://tinyurl.com/z2knqsz
Browns Canyon 2/1/2015 Land Colorado 21,586 BLM/USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/jndlox3 https://tinyurl.com/pe4oa54
California Coastal 1/12/2017 Land California 6,230 BLM enlargement of California Coastal National Monument https://tinyurl.com/j4dx5qk https://tinyurl.com/z2knqsz
Cascade-Siskiyou 1/12/2017 Land Oregon 48,000 BLM enlargement of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument https://tinyurl.com/z9f63hj https://tinyurl.com/z2knqsz
Castle Mountains 2/12/2016 Land California 30,920 NPS https://tinyurl.com/hkd4c83 https://tinyurl.com/j5azhsc
Cesar Estrada Chavez 10/8/2012 Land California 11 NPS https://tinyurl.com/hfbamyr
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers 3/25/2013 Land Ohio 60 NPS https://tinyurl.com/h6vztnb
Chimney Rock 9/21/2012 Land Colorado 4,722 USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/zna8345
First State Historical Park 3/25/2013 Land Delaware 1,108 NPS https://tinyurl.com/z9gmybq
Fort Monroe 11/1/2011 Land Virginia 325 NPS https://tinyurl.com/h8wz4rt
Fort Ord 4/20/2012 Land California 14,651 BLM https://tinyurl.com/j5oae3s
Freedom Riders 1/12/2017 Land Alabama 6 NPS https://tinyurl.com/jt7jh3p https://tinyurl.com/z2knqsz
Gold Butte 12/28/2016 Land Nevada 300,000 BLM https://tinyurl.com/jrdstc7 https://tinyurl.com/jfty68p
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad 3/25/2013 Land Maryland 11,750 NPS https://tinyurl.com/hrvfhvr
Honouliuli 2/9/2015 Land Hawaii 123 NPS https://tinyurl.com/gq4t6j3 https://tinyurl.com/pe4oa54
Katahdin Woods & Waters 8/24/2016 Land Maine 87,563 NPS on land donated to U.S. government https://tinyurl.com/jjp3fbf https://tinyurl.com/jj69h23
Mojave Trails 2/12/2016 Land California 1,600,000 BLM https://tinyurl.com/gm7ykkn https://tinyurl.com/j5azhsc
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts 9/15/2016 Marine Massachusetts – Atlantic 4,913 NOAA/USFWS https://tinyurl.com/zhssztt
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks 5/21/2014 Land New Mexico 496,330 BLM https://tinyurl.com/zvt9owo
Pacific Remote Islands 9/25/2014 Marine Guam – Pacific NOAA/USFWS enlarged from 86,888 to 408,301 sq. mi. https://tinyurl.com/zxlwtdm
Papahānaumokuākea 8/26/2016 Marine Hawaii USFWS, Hawaii enlarged from 140,000 to 582,578 sq. mi. https://tinyurl.com/z5bvc2o https://tinyurl.com/j6bjjzr
Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands 3/11/2014 Land California 1,665 BLM enlargement of California Coastal National Monument https://tinyurl.com/jafyea2
Prehistoric Trackways 3/30/2009 Land New Mexico 5,255 BLM legislation
Pullman 2/19/2015 Land Illinois 203 NPS https://tinyurl.com/hr2uleo https://tinyurl.com/pe4oa54
Reconstruction Era 1/12/2017 Land South Carolina 16 NPS https://tinyurl.com/z56stzf https://tinyurl.com/z2knqsz
Rio Grande del Norte 3/25/2013 Land New Mexico 242,555 BLM https://tinyurl.com/h6ordoo
San Gabriel Mountains 10/10/2014 Land California 346,177 USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/z3harl7
San Juan Islands 10/8/2012 Land Washington 970 BLM https://tinyurl.com/zaeeqky
Sand to Snow 2/12/2016 Land California 154,000 BLM/USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/gqkgeb6 https://tinyurl.com/j5azhsc
Stonewall 6/24/2016 Land New York 8 Private https://tinyurl.com/jne54kz
Tule Springs Fossil Beds 12/19/2014 Land Nevada 22,650 NPS legislation
Waco Mammoth 7/10/2015 Land Texas 7 NPS, City of Waco, Baylor University https://tinyurl.com/j9o3qca https://tinyurl.com/zyjenj9
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Obama expands two western national monuments, sets aside preserves to recognize history of quest for racial justice

President Barack Obama, acting as his time in office winds down to further his noteworthy record of advancing public land conservation, moved Thursday to enlarge two existing national monuments in the West and established three national monuments in the South to recognize the long struggle for racial equality in the United States.

Obama adjusted the boundaries of California Coastal National Monument in California and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon and northern California. Both national monuments are on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior.

“The BLM manages some of the nation’s wildest and most sacred landscapes, including more than 800 areas that have been protected through congressional and presidential action,” Neil Kornze, the director of BLM, said. “We’re proud to be charged with stewarding these incredible lands for future generations, including today’s additions to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the California Coastal National Monument. The BLM looks forward to continuing and expanding our work with local communities to ensure successful management of these special places.”

california-coastal-nm-photo-courtesy-blm-photo-by-bob-wick
California Coastal National Monument. Image courtesy BLM, photo by Bob Wick.

Obama’s proclamation expanding California Coastal National Monument tracked the language of the American Antiquities Act of 1906 and pointed to the “historic or scientific interest” of six areas that will now be included in it: Trinidad Head, Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch, Lost Coast Headlands, Cotoni-Coast Dairies, Piedras Blancas, and Orange County Rocks and Islands. The first three of those listed sites are in Humboldt County, the core of the Golden State’s “Redwood Coast,” while the others are located, respectively, in Santa Cruz County, San Luis Obispo County, and Orange County.

trinidad-head-photo-courtesy-wikimedia
Trinidad Head appears on the upper right of this photograph. Image courtesy Wikimedia, photo by TrinidadMike.

Trinidad Head, in Humboldt County, is a high promontory known as the site where Spanish explorers landed in June 1775 to claim the land now known as California for King Charles III. Portuguese sailors had discovered the site even earlier, in 1595.

The site has been the location of a picturesque lighthouse since  1871 and now also serves as location for scientific research. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration established a meteorological laboratory there in 2002, while NASA has studied trace atmospheric gases from the location since 1995. Thirteen acres of the site are now included within the boundaries of California Coastal National Monument.

Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch is 12 miles south of Eureka. A property of high ancestral significance to the Wyot Tribe, it was used by the U.S. Coast Guard beginning in the late 1800s. The military developed a base for coastal lookout operations there during the 1940s, but now there are no buildings on the site. Visitors to the property can see the Pacific Ocean, Eel River Delta, and south spit of Humboldt Bay.

lost-coast-headlands-photo-courtesy-blm-photo-by-bob-wick
This photo shows some of the remote Lost Coast Headlands in central California. Image courtesy BLM, photo by Bob Wick.

The Lost Coast Headlands are located 13 miles south of Waluph-Lighthouse Ranch. They are of geological value because the sedimentary rock underneath the hills, bluffs, and forests include marine fossils dating from Pleistocene Epoch. The areas’s biodiversity includes bobcats, gray fox, and mountain lions, as well as a variety of raptors, a steelhead run, and a population of threatened California red-legged frogs.

Named for an area bypassed by U.S. Highway 1, the Lost Coast area of which the headlands are part lost population beginning in the 1930s. The nearby Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and King Range National Conservation Area also aim to preserve the scenic region, known for its black sand beaches, spectacular vistas and tall redwood trees.

land-on-cotoni-coast-dairies-property-courtesy-wikimedia
This photo provides a view of the coastal lands of the Cotoni-Coast Dairies property now included within California Coastal National Monument. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Most of the land known as Santa Cruz County’s Cotoni-Coast Dairies are not now open to the public. The 5,785-acre property was obtained by The Trust for Public Land in 1998. That organization then donated 407 acres to California State Parks and most of the rest to BLM in 2014.

The Cotoni-Coast Diaries property spans six watersheds, all of which are considered to be viable Pacific salmon habitat. Three of the streams on the property – Laguna Creek, Liddell Creek, and San Vicente Creek – actually host salmon or steelhead spawners.  The mammal population is also diverse. As described in Obama’s proclamation:

“The diversity of the uplands vegetation in Cotoni-Coast Dairies supports a rich wildlife community including a vast and varied mammalian population. Among the many species inhabiting Cotoni-Coast Dairies are California voles, dusky-footed woodrats, black-tailed jackrabbits, mule deer, and gray fox. Evidence also suggests that both bobcats and mountain lions hunt here.

“Visitors to Cotoni-Coast Dairies may be able to catch a glimpse of a variety of avian species, including black swifts, orange crowned warblers, American kestrels, Cooper’s hawks, white-tailed kites, and peregrine falcons. In the riparian areas, one may encounter Wilson’s warblers, downy woodpeckers, and tree swallows, among others. Various bat species, including the Townsend’s big-eared bat, can be seen darting overhead at dusk.”

The land given by The Trust for Public Land to California was later opened to the public as Coast Dairies State Park.

elephant-seals-at-piedras-blancas-photo-courtesy-scripps-institute-of-oceanography-photo-by-wolf-berger
Elephant seals rest on the beach at Piedras Blancas. Image courtesy Scripps Institute of Oceanography, photo by Wolf Berger.

Piedras Blancas, about 40 miles north of San Luis Obispo, is known for its elephant seal rookery and its historic lighthouse. The site has long been important to native Americans because, for at least 3,000 years, it was a location for trading between different cultures. The explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo claimed it for Spain in 1542 and, three-plus centuries later, a lighthouse was built there in the 1870s.

Elephant seals are not the only pinniped visitors to Piedras Blancas. California sea lions and harbor seals are also common there. Whales and dolphins can be seen from the beaches. The region also serves as habitat for a variety of birds, amphibians, and reptiles and boasts a broad array of plants, including at least 70 native species.

The sixth area included in Obama’s expansion of California Coastal National Monument is in southern California. The Orange County Rocks and Islands are important habitat for a variety of sea birds, including the formerly endangered brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), and marine mammals. They also provide a unique view of coastal geology for visitors to the coast.

Designated by Congress during the 1930s as sites for lighthouses, the Orange County Rocks and Islands were the only offshore California lands that had not previously been included in the California Coastal National Monument.

California Coastal National Monument was established in 2000 by President William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton’s proclamation emphasized that his decision to create the preserve was motivated principally by a desire to protect marine wildlife habitat.

Obama expanded the monument in March 2014 to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a scenic coastal area in Mendocino County that includes dunes, prairies, riverbanks, shelves, tidepools, and the mouth of the Garcia River.

cascade-siskiyou-national-monument-photo-courtesy-blm
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Image courtesy BLM.

Obama’s other national monument expansion announced Thursday impacts another Clinton-era designation. The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, first set aside in 2000, is now about 48,000 acres larger.

Focusing on the region’s significance to an array of wildlife, Obama’s Jan. 12 proclamation explained that the uniquely abundant biodiversity in the Cascade-Siskiyou region provided a convincing reason for the expansion:

“Cascade-Siskiyou’s biodiversity, which provides habitat for a dazzling array of species, is internationally recognized and has been studied extensively by ecologists, evolutionary biologists, botanists, entomologists, and wildlife biologists. Ranging from high slopes of Shasta red fir to lower elevations with Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, incense cedar, and oak savannas, the topography and elevation gradient of the area has helped create stunningly diverse ecosystems. From ancient and mixed-aged conifer and hardwood forests to chaparral, oak woodlands, wet meadows, shrublands, fens, and open native perennial grasslands, the landscape harbors extraordinarily varied and diverse plant communities. Among these are threatened and endangered plant species and habitat for numerous other rare and endemic species.”

The President also highlighted the imperative of providing space for animal populations to move, specifically mentioning the major features that will now be included in the national monument: Horseshoe Ranch, the Jenny Creek watershed, the Grizzly Peak area, Lost Lake, the Rogue Valley foothills, the Southern Cascades area, and the area surrounding Surveyor Mountain.

Among the many species found in this area are hundreds of flowering plants, several ferns, and at least six trees. Obama also cited the presence of 14 raptors, including the threatened northern spotted owl, a large variety of songbirds and avians dependent on marshes and other freshwater resources, and a long list of amphibians, fish, invertebrates, mammals, and reptiles.

Obama also noted the region’s significance to native Americans and as a path for the Applegate Trail.

The two western national monument expansions were not Thursday’s only invocations of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Obama also set aside three small national monuments in the south.

Each is aimed at  commemorating the sites of important events in the nation’s long quest for equal justice and equal rights and all three will be managed by the National Park Service.

freedom-riders-bus-burning-1961-photo-courtesy-national-park-service
This photo shows the Freedom Riders bus in flames following an attack on African-Americans working to secure their Constitutional rights. Image courtesy National Park Service.

The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, in Birmingham, Ala., and the Freedom Riders National Monument, in Anniston, Ala., pay homage to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, while Reconstruction Era National Monument in becomes the only component of the National Park System that aims to build public awareness of the post-Civil War era in which the federal government worked to integrate freed slaves into the national political and economic fabric.

“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” U.S. secretary of interior Sally Jewell said. “Now the National Park Service, America’s Storyteller, will forever be responsible for safeguarding the narrative of not only the sparks that ignited the Civil Rights movement but also the hope of the Reconstruction Era, which for far too long, has been neglected from our national conscience.”

With Thursday’s announcements Obama became the most prolific land and water conservationist of all American chief executives. He has designated or increased the size of 34 national monuments during his eight-year tenure, two more than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The total amount of acreage, including both land and ocean-based national monuments, that Obama has preserved is in excess of 550 million acres.

 

House approves rule change to ease public land sales or grants

little-grand-canyon-san-rafael-swell-region-utah-courtesy-wikimedia
The Little Grand Canyon, which is part of the region known as the San Rafael Swell in Utah, is on public land. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

The U.S. House of Representatives acted on the first day of the 115th Congress to ease obstacles to transferring public land out of federal ownership.

Voting on a set of rules that set prerequisites to consideration of bills by legislators, the GOP-dominated House eliminated a that bills relating to public land transfers account for financial losses by the government when the land is sold or given away.

The current rules of the Congressional Budget Office mandate that transfers of any federal acreage that can be used to produce revenue for the U.S. Treasury be deemed to have a cost.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, pushed successfully for language providing that transfers “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.”

Bishop has been an advocate for reducing the size of the federal estate. A spokesperson for the Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, said that the change to the CBO rule is necessary because “in many cases federal lands create a significant burden for the surrounding communities.”

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., wrote to fellow Democrats and urged them to fight the Bishop proposal.

“The House Republican plan to give away America’s public lands for free is outrageous and absurd,” Grijalva said. “This proposed rule change would make it easier to implement this plan by allowing the Congress to give away every single piece of property we own, for free, and pretend we have lost nothing of any value. Not only is this fiscally irresponsible, but it is also a flagrant attack on places and resources valued and beloved by the American people.”

Many state and local governments lack the fiscal and personnel resources needed to take on management of federal land.

The rules package was approved on a 233-190 vote.

National monument designations, 2009-2017

National Monument Date Established or Enlarged Land or Marine? State, Territory, or Ocean Size (acres) Notes Link to Proclamation
Basin and Range 7/10/2015 Land Nevada 704,000 https://tinyurl.com/jfqgpyy
Bears Ears 12/28/2016 Land Utah 1,350,000 https://tinyurl.com/j5rfg4h
Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality 4/12/2016 Land Washington, D.C. <1 https://tinyurl.com/zn73ju3
Berryessa Snow Mountain 7/10/2015 Land California 330,380 https://tinyurl.com/j7ujohj
Browns Canyon 2/1/2015 Land Colorado 21,586 https://tinyurl.com/jndlox3
Castle Mountains 2/12/2016 Land California 30,920 https://tinyurl.com/hkd4c83
Cesar Estrada Chavez 10/8/2012 Land California 11 https://tinyurl.com/hfbamyr
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers 3/25/2013 Land Ohio 60 https://tinyurl.com/h6vztnb
Chimney Rock 9/21/2012 Land Colorado 4,722 https://tinyurl.com/zna8345
First State Historical Park 3/25/2013 Land Delaware 1,108 https://tinyurl.com/z9gmybq
Fort Monroe 11/1/2011 Land Virginia 325 https://tinyurl.com/h8wz4rt
Fort Ord 4/20/2012 Land California 14,651 https://tinyurl.com/j5oae3s
Gold Butte 12/28/2016 Land Nevada 300,000 https://tinyurl.com/jrdstc7
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad 3/25/2013 Land Maryland 11,750 https://tinyurl.com/hrvfhvr
Honouliuliu 2/9/2015 Land Hawaii 123 https://tinyurl.com/gq4t6j3
Katahdin Woods and Waters 8/24/2016 Land Maine 87,563 https://tinyurl.com/jjp3fbf
Mojave Trails 2/12/2016 Land California 1,600,000 https://tinyurl.com/gm7ykkn
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts 9/15/2016 Marine Massachusetts – Atlantic 4,913 https://tinyurl.com/zhssztt
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks 5/21/2014 Land New Mexico 496,330 https://tinyurl.com/zvt9owo
Pacific Remote Islands 9/25/2014 Marine Guam – Pacific enlarged from 86,888 to 408,301 sq. mi. https://tinyurl.com/zxlwtdm
Papahānaumokuākea 8/26/2016 Marine Hawaii – Pacific enlarged from 140,000 to 582,578 sq. mi. https://tinyurl.com/z5bvc2o
Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands 3/11/2014 Land California 1,665 enlargement of California Coastal National Monument https://tinyurl.com/jafyea2
Prehistoric Trackways 3/30/2009 Land New Mexico 5,255 legislation
Pullman 2/19/2015 Land Illinois 203 https://tinyurl.com/hr2uleo
Rio Grande del Norte 3/25/2013 Land New Mexico 242,555 https://tinyurl.com/h6ordoo
San Gabriel Mountains 10/10/2014 Land California 346,177 https://tinyurl.com/z3harl7
San Juan Islands 10/8/2012 Land Washington 970 https://tinyurl.com/zaeeqky
Sand to Snow 2/12/2016 Land California 154,000 https://tinyurl.com/gqkgeb6
Stonewall 6/24/2016 Land New York 8 https://tinyurl.com/jne54kz
Tule Springs Fossil Beds 12/19/2014 Land Nevada 22,650 legislation
Waco Mammoth 7/10/2015 Land Texas 7 https://tinyurl.com/j9o3qca

Obama declares national monuments in Nevada and Utah

President Barack Obama gave a late Christmas present to environmental protection advocates and Native American tribes by declaring federal land in Nevada and Utah as national monuments.

The Dec. 28 move by the White House covers about 1.64 million acres of Bureau of Land Management and USDA Forest Service land. Included are about 300,000 acres in Nevada and about 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah.

“Today’s actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes,” Obama said in a statement.

gold-butte-national-monument-map
This map of the new Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada shows its close proximity to the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona and Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Map courtesy U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The new Nevada preserve, to be known as Gold Butte National Monument, is in Clark County, northeast of Las Vegas. A fact sheet released by the White House pointed to its importance as a connective corridor between Lake Mead Recreation Area and Grand Canyon-Parishant National Monument in northern Arizona.

Obama, in the formal proclamation creating the national monument, specifically highlighted the area’s Native American artifacts, 19th century ranch buildings, artifacts from the Spanish exploration of the area centuries ago, fossilized dinosaur tracks, and wildlife habitat.

“The Gold Butte area contains an extraordinary variety of diverse and irreplaceable scientific, historic, and prehistoric resources, including vital plant and wildlife habitat, significant geological formations, rare fossils, important sites from the history of Native Americans, and remnants of our Western mining and ranching heritage. The landscape reveals a story of thousands of years of human interaction with this harsh environment and provides a rare glimpse into the lives of Nevada’s first inhabitants, the rich and varied indigenous cultures that followed, and the eventual arrival of Euro-American settlers. Canyons and intricate rock formations are a stunning backdrop to the area’s famously beautiful rock art, and the desert provides critical habitat for the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.”

– Presidential Proclamation: Establishment of the Gold Butte National Monument, Dec. 28, 2016

Among the species that will benefit from the increased restrictions on natural resource use that comes with the national monument designation are Mojave desert tortoise, mountain lions, and desert bighorn sheep.

The designation of Gold Butte National Monument was pushed for many years by outgoing U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid said in a statement that the new national monument represents what “Nevada once was.”

gold-butte-national-monument-photo-by-wendy-harrell-courtesy-blm
This photo shows some of the land included in the new Gold Butte National Monument. Image courtesy U.S. Bureau of Land Management, photo by Wendy Harrell.

Gold Butte National Monument is the third one to be designated by Obama in Nevada.

In July 2015 the President designated Basin and Range National Monument there. That preserve includes 704,000 acres in two remote southeastern counties.

In 2014 Obama declared the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, which encompasses 22,650 acres of land containing Ice Age-vintage paleontological artifacts.

The Utah preserve will be known as Bears Ears National Monument.

Named for two buttes that have similar names in several Native American languages, the protection of cultural artifacts the new national monument affords has been avidly sought by the region’s tribes for at least eight decades.

bears-ears-buttes
The Bears Ears buttes are the namesake of a new national monument in Utah. Photo courtesy Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, photo by Tim Peterson.

More than two dozen tribes, representing native Americans across the U.S, had asked Obama to preserve about 1.9 million acres in the Bears Ears area.

Long heralded as one of the few remaining unspoiled areas in the West, the region has experienced a significant increase in vandalism and looting of sacred sites. The  National Trust for Historic Preservation named it one of the 11 most endangered historic sites in the U.S. last year, specifically noting that BLM has lacked both funds and staff needed to protect its archaeological resources.

Obama’s proclamation establishing the preserve paid homage to the area’s importance to the country’s indigenous peoples:

“For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and meadow mountaintops, which constitute one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States. Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record that is important to us all, but most notably the land is profoundly sacred to many Native American tribehttps://wordpress.com/post/naturalresourcestoday.org/4571s, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation, and Zuni Tribe.”

– Presidential Proclamation: Establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument, Dec. 28, 2016

At the core of Bears Ears National Monument is Cedar Mesa, which includes at least 56,000 cultural artifacts, the vistas of Muley Point, and the origin of at least twelve canyons. Some of the native artifacts there date back at least 12,000 years.

muley-point-looking-south-photo-courtesy-wikimedia
This photo shows the vista from Muley Point, looking toward the south. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

In addition to the Bears Ears buttes, the new national monument includes the Abajo Mountains and Elk Ridge, Beef Basin, Chimney Rocks, Comb Ridge, Indian Creek and Harts Draw, Moqui Canyon, Mancos Mesa, Nokai Dome, Red Canyon, Valley of the Gods, White Canyon, and the confluence of the San Juan and Colorado rivers.

bears-ears-national-monument-map
This map shows the proximity of Bears Ears National Monument to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and several tribal nations. Map courtesy U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Obama’s proclamation also gave Native Americans a formal role in management of the new national monument, a first under the Antiquities Act, by establishing a commission of tribal leaders to advise BLM and USDA Forest Service land managers in the region.

Bears Ears National Monument will protect more than cultural assets. The area also includes arches, canyons, hoodoos, and natural bridges, making it geologically unique, as well as fossils that extend from Earth’s Permian period through the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras of geologic time.

petroglyph-comb-ridge-bears-ears-photo-by-josh-ewing-photo-courtesy-bears-ears-intertribal-coalition
This image shows petroglyphs on Comb Ridge. Photo courtesy Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, photo by Josh Ewing.

Environmentalists, too, lauded Obama’s move.

In preserving the iconic Bears Ears, President Obama has made conservation history,” Rhea Suh, the president of Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “These lands will now be safe from mining, drilling and other threats.”

Opponents of Bears Ears National Monument, including Republicans in the Utah Congressional delegation, promised a fight over the designation.

Rep. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, both of whom represent rural regions of the Beehive State, introduced in a bill during the 114th Congress that would have set aside some of the Bears Ears region as wilderness. Native American leaders did not support it, however, after concluding that their perspective was not being considered by the two anti-public land congressmen.

Bishop and Chaffetz incorporated their “Public Lands Initiative” into a bill, H.R. 5780, that cleared the House Natural Resources Committee but did not receive a floor vote. It is not clear whether it could pass the U.S. Senate, though Utah’s two senators have also expressed opposition to Obama’s move.

Deseret News reported Dec. 29 that Chaffetz, in his role as chair of the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee, demanded that the administration turn over documents relating to the designation of both Bears Ears National Monument and Gold Butte National Monument.

The state’s attorney general also announced on Dec. 28 that he would sue in an effort to obtain a federal court order overturning Obama’s action in creating Bears Ears National Monument.

No obvious precedent indicates that such a lawsuit would succeed. The U.S. Supreme Court has, on several occasions, upheld unilateral Presidential authority to designate national monuments, even in cases of large swaths of public land such as the Bears Ears region.

Obama has now designated or increased the size of 29 national monuments that include more than 550 million acres of land or sea. He has made the second-most use of the Antiquities Act of 1906, following only President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Obama administration seeks reduction in methane emissions from oil and gas facilities on public lands

The U.S. Department of Interior has proposed regulations aimed at limiting the amount of a potent greenhouse gas emitted from oil and natural gas exploration wells.

Announced Jan. 22, the new rule would require energy companies to scale back the amount of flaring from 7,200,000 cubic feet per month per well to 1,800,000 cubic feet per month per well within three years. Well operators would have the choice of capturing gases that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere or reducing production as means of achieving the target. Emergency flaring would not be limited.

“I think most people would agree that we should be using our nation’s natural gas to power our economy – not wasting it by venting and flaring it into the atmosphere,” secretary of the interior Sally M. Jewell said in a statement. “We need to modernize decades-old standards to reflect existing technologies so that we can cut down on harmful methane emissions and use this captured natural gas to generate power and provide a return to taxpayers, tribes and states for this public resource.”

Flaring is used by energy producers as a way of eliminating gases released from underground during extraction of fossil fuel resources, particularly oil. The gases are considered by the fossil fuel extractor to be either not economically useful or infeasible to store or transport.

These “waste” gases are mostly methane. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that about 29 percent of total American methane emissions to the atmosphere comes from fossil fuel extraction infrastructure, including wells, storage tanks, pipelines, and processing facilities. Worldwide, as much as 5.3 trillion cubic feet of methane is released to the atmosphere every year from fossil fuel extraction, transportation, storage, and processing systems.

Aside from the methane emissions caused by flaring, about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide are also added to the atmosphere every year as the result of flaring around the world.

Flaring also costs the taxpayer money. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the gases flared to the atmosphere from wells and related infrastructure on U.S. public lands means that about $23 million in royalties otherwise payable to the federal treasury is lost to the government.

Video courtesy U.S. GAO.

Environmental advocacy organizations reacted cautiously to the Obama administration’s initiative.

“These rules are an important start to reducing potent methane pollution—which fuels climate change and threatens public health—from oil and gas companies operating on our nation’s public lands,” Meleah Geertsma, an attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “However, they fall short of what’s necessary to tackle the full scope of the problem, including leaving significant gas leaks and flaring unaddressed.”

“At a minimum, the administration should require the industry to put all of the available and cost-effective measures in place to curb this rampant air pollution problem,” Geertsma continued. “That’s true not just for public lands—but all oil and gas operations, new and old, nationwide.”

The rules announced by Jewell are not yet final. The proposed rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the Department of Interior, will accept comments for 60 days following publication.

President Barack Obama announced in Jan. 2015 that his administration would seek to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 40 to 45 percent by 2025. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed in August 2015 a regulation that would limit methane emissions from new or modified oil and natural gas extraction facilities.

 

NYT: Obama to ban new coal leases on federal land

President Barack Obama will announce Friday a ban on new federal coal leases, according to a report in the New York Times.

The story by veteran Times environment reporter Coral Davenport said that the move would come as part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s periodic effort to update policy relating to leasing and royalties.

Any executive order by Obama would rely on authority provided by the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

Coal production from lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service generated about $682 million in royalties during fiscal year 2015, according to data made available by the Department of Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue. Counting other fees and sources of income related to coal leasing, the federal government’s revenue from the program exceeded $1.2 billion in 2014. BLM alone leased more than 475 million acres of land for coal production during that year.

Federal coal leases generally allow production to occur for 20 years. Davenport’s story indicated that current levels of coal production from the federal estate would be likely to continue for about the same amount of time even if Obama acts to block new leases.

The President said during his State of the Union address on Tuesday that he would impose reform on the federal coal leasing program in order to assure that it takes account of the environmental cost of fossil fuel combustion. In addition, Interior secretary Sally Jewell said in a March 2015 speech that she thought “it’s time for an honest and open conversation about modernizing the federal coal program.”