Mountains

New jewels in the crown of treasured public lands

On March 25, President Obama added five new national monument jewels to America's enviable crown of treasured public lands. These lands forever protect the historic places of our nation and its environmental and scenic legacy. They include the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Monument in Ohio, the Harriet Tubman House in Maryland, the First State National Monument in Delaware, the San Juan National Monument in Washington, and the Rio Grande Del Norte in New Mexico.

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico reflects the Obama administration's renewed effort to balance conservation with development of our public lands - a goal that requires leadership from the president and the continued engagement of indigenous people in efforts to protect our shared human heritage.

In protecting Rio Grande del Norte, President Obama preserved public lands with extraordinary economic, cultural, environmental and recreational value for our children and grandchildren. The designation came at the behest of local businesses, sportsmen, elected officials, community leaders and New Mexico's congressional delegation, and importantly, with the support of affected tribes.

A resolution approved earlier this year by the Taos Pueblo reads in part: "The people of Taos Pueblo have for centuries been important Earth stewards honoring the interconnection of all life in the Rio Gorge and surrounding plateau and mesas. [The] National Monument will ensure that these public lands will be conserved and enhanced for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations of all species."

Local tribes also supported the president's protection of Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado last year. The site holds great spiritual significance to Pueblo and other tribal communities. Every 18.6 years, during a phenomenon known as a "major lunar standstill," the moon is framed by twin stone spires as seen from the Pueblo Great House site. The site is essentially a celestial calendar; the archaeological record shows that periods of construction at Chimney Rock took place during those lunar standstill years.

Native people across the Southwest hold strong ties to their surrounding environment and rely on public lands like Rio Grande del Norte and Chimney Rock to meet cultural, spiritual, economic and subsistence needs. These landscapes include sacred sites and lands of great ecological value. They also fuel local tourism economies and support jobs dependent on heritage tourism and access to outdoor recreation.

The president used his authority to declare these new national monuments under the Antiquities Act after significant public input from the local communities. These presidential designations had local and tribal support, and the president wisely used his authority to make these designations in our national interest.

Deborah J. Gangloff, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

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