Preserve federal lands for future generations
Guest columnist Clarence Moriwaki reflects on the gifts made possible by the U.S. Antiquities Act. Enacted 105 years ago, the act has made possible the creation of 131 national monuments.
Special to The Times
WITH its stunning array of Pacific Ocean beaches, rain forest valleys and glacier-capped peaks, our very own Olympic National Park is America's sixth-most-visited national park, dazzling more than 3 million visitors each year.
Protecting 73 miles of the wild Pacific coast while much of our nation's coastline is prime real estate, Olympic National Park was originally preserved as the Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt using the Antiquities Act.
The Antiquities Act was passed by a Republican Congress on June 8, 1906, and is one of the nation's most powerful federal tools to preserve open space, natural treasures and historical sites.
Fifteen presidents in both major parties have effectively used the act to proclaim historic landmarks, structures and other objects and places of scientific interest. Together they created 131 national monuments including the world's archetype for freedom, the Statue of Liberty, the breathtaking Grand Canyon and many of America's most beloved places. The act gives presidents the power to move quickly when necessary and establish a national monument — without the approval of Congress.
Adding to the National Park System is a goal with which I have rich experience. I spent much of the past decade working to preserve and protect the former Eagledale Ferry Dock on Bainbridge Island, the place that in 1942 was the departure point for 227 Japanese-American island residents to "relocation centers" in California and Idaho. They were the first of more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent forcibly moved from their homes on the West Coast and sent to isolated concentration camps after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
The site commemorates the injustices suffered by not only the members of the Bainbridge Island community, but for all Japanese Americans exiled during World War II. We were honored to achieve national park status as a satellite unit of Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho in 2008.
While the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Committee was able to navigate a nearly 10-year process, many other national treasures cannot wait. That is why President Theodore Roosevelt wasted no time in 1906 after signing the Antiquities Act, and immediately declared Wyoming's Devils Tower as our first national monument. He knew that allowing Congress to debate its merits would likely result in private development occurring before a designation decision was reached. Similarly, to halt the looting of priceless artifacts, he followed with proclaiming Arizona's Petrified Forest and New Mexico's Chaco Canyon as monuments.
Used most recently in 2009 by President George W. Bush to create three marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean, the Antiquities Act is a cost-effective investment. Presidents may only designate national monuments from existing federal lands that are already being supported by the American taxpayer. Using the act simply means that the government is designating an appropriate preservation use for the land it already owns, protecting it for future generations.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration unveiled its landmark America's Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative report, which included suggestions for how to work with the public to identify and recommend potential monument sites that would be protected under the Antiquities Act.
Americans have repeatedly demonstrated that they want to preserve our singular landscapes and historic sites and add them to the National Park System. In the West, a recent Conservation in the West survey showed that the outdoors is what we value most about living in the West. And in a National Parks Conservation Association survey, 77 percent said national parks should play a highly prominent role in fulfilling the AGO mission.
Indeed, national parks not only connect us to our heritage, they create huge tourism dollars — conservatively estimated, visitors to national parks spend more than $11 billion annually in the local regions of the parks.
Protecting places like Olympic National Park are not only important to ensuring this legacy for our children, grandchildren and future generations to come, it's critical to act now since many of these places are threatened by development. Every year America loses about 1 million acres of land to development — in a typical forest, that's about one billion trees.
Our nation's geologic wonders and sites of historical significance like the Eagledale Ferry Dock site connect us to our heritage and sustain us. Roosevelt's insight about the value of such places was visionary and holds up as well today as it did over a century ago.
Using the Antiquities Act to further his legacy, and to continue the enrichment of our lives, is an unquestionable mandate for us all.Clarence Moriwaki serves on the Northwest Regional Advisory Council of the National Parks Conservation Association and is a board member of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.
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