There was a time, a better time, or so they say, when good legislation made it through Congress on its merits. Those days, if they even existed, are long gone replaced with a modern version of political division – one so deep even good ideas easily get the boot.
It’s a climate that leaves many conservationists scratching their heads. The problem is there’s work to be done – vast swaths of good habitat that need attention and protection.
The game, it seems, has changed.
Trout Unlimited and many other conservation organizations are learning to work with those changes, which brings us to monument designations.
As one of the many legacies left by Theodore Roosevelt, the President can use the Antiquities Act and set aside lands as national monuments. It’s a flexible designation, one that can come with varying degrees of protection, but a designation straight from Washington D.C. nevertheless.
“We don’t often seek monument designations,” said Steve Kandell, director of the Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. “Those sometimes leave hard feelings. We still believe in the legislative process. There’s no substitute for a community-based solution that eventually becomes law. But lately, that process isn’t nearly as effective.”
No doubt there are mixed feelings left in the wake of monument designations. Often communities feel that the government has overstepped its bounds.
The problem comes when it’s a protection a community wants, the regular channels have been exhausted, and Congress isn’t listening.
“When these ideas come from the communities and backyards where a designation will happen, and Congress can’t get it done, we feel the Antiquities Act is a viable tool that will help us detour around some of the unnecessary politics that typically has nothing to do with protecting important habitat.”
In New Mexico, more than 230,000 acres of land were recently protected through the Rio Grande del Norte monument designation. And while the final move came from Washington D.C., the movement that preceded that designation came from the people who valued the place the most.
Garrett VeneKlasen, Southwestern Regional Director for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project, said that campaign was almost a decade in the making.
“Indeed, the public process behind the protection of Rio Grande del Norte was so utterly inclusive and democratic that by the time Secretary Salazar came to Taos, New Mexico to announce the Administration’s consideration of a National Monument designation this past December, not a single individual in a diverse room full of citizens objected to his proposition. Not one.”
After the designation, there was some disagreement over whether it was the right course.
“There are non-resident naysayers out there that argue that this was not the right course for the Rio,” VeneKlasen said. “This campaign came straight from the people, all people – so many people of so many shapes and sizes and backgrounds one can’t even keep them straight. It came from the people who loved this place most.”
Protecting the best coldwater habitat is an essential component of Trout Unlimited’s mission. We use science to determine which areas are in greatest need of protection, and as an organization rooted in local communities, we rely on stakeholder processes to determine how best to protect those vital habitats. As we look at good ideas that are emerging to protect habitat in Colorado, West Virginia, and elsewhere we will use science and stakeholder engagement to guide us to the right land designation decisions. Those decisions will be worthy of recognition—whether by Congress or the President—because they are done the right way.