It doesn't seem to require much effort for President Trump to sign an executive order — after all, he seems to be doing it all the time. As you've witnessed over and over, though, these things have real world consequences. Now, yet another executive order is endangering 11 stunning national monuments. As part of his broader effort to walk back on environmental protections put in place by the Obama administration, this executive order opens up 24 national monuments for review. Following that review, which will be carried out by Trump's Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke (a guy who rode a horse to work on his first day, for the record), the administration may try to shrink or entirely erase certain national monuments.
Zinke is known as a great lover of the outdoors, but also as someone who shares the Trump administration's view that more federal land should be opened up for development by the fossil fuel industry. The question of whether a president can actually remove national monument status, though, is still very much unresolved. Any attempt to shrink or get rid of them will definitely see challenges in court. But at the very least, the executive order has put important parts of the country's heritage in danger. Because that's the thing about national monuments — they're not just monuments protecting physical reminders of the nation's history. They're protecting swaths of land that are important pieces of the entire earth's heritage, and now, they're in danger.
1Bears Ears National Monument, Utah
Bears Ears National Monument got its adorable name because of a pair of geological formations that look like, well, a bear's ears — but even with all of that adorableness, this national monument is the one most mired in controversy. It's extremely remote, and five local Native American tribes spent years lobbying for it to be officially protected because of the archaeological sites and tribal artifacts that are included within it.
However, it's also in a very poor area of Utah, and it's near where an oil company is looking to drill. Conservatives say that giving it protected status was unfair to those who could benefit from that potential development. When they say anything about "land grabs," though, which they have, just remember that it was federally-owned land to begin with. Bears Ears is the first monument that Zinke will review, and if indeed he does decide that it needs to be shrunk, the Native American groups who fought for it in the beginning will be there to rehash that fight again.
2Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, also in Utah, has been another source of anger since President Clinton designated it as such in 1996. Clinton could have been a bit more transparent about the process; he didn't tell Utah's congressional representatives that he was creating it until it was already done — and there just so happened to be a vein of coal there. There's speculation that the whole executive order is just meant to go after these two monuments — but these would be a lot to lose. Grand Staircase is home to an astounding range of geological features, and it would be incredibly short-sighted to destroy any of them just in the pursuit of some coal.
3Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arizona
The Grand Canyon needs no introduction — and not even the Trump administration is self-destructive enough to threaten one of the country's most visited tourist destinations. However, bordering the Grand Canyon National Park is the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, and its scenery is hardly less gorgeous than its more famous neighbor's.
4Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, Pacific Ocean
Not all National Monuments are made of stone!— Sea Turtle Camp (@SeaTurtleCamp) November 22, 2014
Marianas Trench Marine National Monument covers 95,216 square mile... pic.twitter.com/c1v6vam6WR
This national monument east of the Philippines protects some of the world's most understudied ecosystems — those at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the ocean. Much of the area covered has actually never been seen by the human eye, and every trip down to study the ecosystems at the bottom of the ocean leads to new discoveries about the forms that life can take. If you're interested in, for example, finding life that exists in extreme situations elsewhere in the solar system, then this is exactly the sort of place on earth that you want to protect and learn from.
5Giant Sequoia National Monument, California
Nothing like Sunday morning above the clouds. Southern Sierra at Jordan Peak, 9,100' in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. pic.twitter.com/tiLcWndpUr— Mark Grossi (@markgrossi) March 26, 2017
The Giant Sequoia National Monument doesn't get as much airtime as its cousin the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, but it still has some pretty impressive sequoia groves, and you can discover them on a hike with your favorite four-legged friend (which you can't do at a national park). The sequoia is also the world's largest tree, and it only grows in a specific area of California — so there's that.
6Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Colorado
The name might sound like the title of the next National Treasure movie, but it's a real thing. The land protected as a national monument contains over 6,000 ancient archaeological sites, and they estimate that there are many more to be found. Research into the area around the monument also indicates that its presence has been been good for the local economy — a study that hopefully Secretary Zinke won't ignore.
7Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, American Samoa
Thanks to its remote location in the South Pacific and inability to support human development, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument has an astounding amount of biological diversity. Endangered turtles, dozens of species of coral and fish, and numerous protected seabird species all call the two small islands and the surrounding sea home.
8Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona
Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona. pic.twitter.com/jCXrElklab— Opuntioideae (@opuntuioideae) December 29, 2016
There isn't any one attraction in particular that would draw you to the Sonoran Desert National Monument — but that's kind of the point. The whole thing was designed to protect the archaeological sites, desert ecosystems, and rare flora and fauna that you can find within the monument's borders.
9Sand To Snow National Monument, California
Talk about diverse environments — Sand to Snow has been called "the most botanically diverse national monument in America," so unsurprisingly, there's a lot to see there. The area includes a desert, mountains, and a wetland, in addition to plenty of fascinating geological features like the Red Dome. Obama only created Sand to Snow in 2016, but it's already gained quite a following — for good reason.
10Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada
Gold Butte National Monument, one of the last things that Obama did in 2016, is notable for all of the petroglyphs there, plus its more natural features like wildlife and geological elements. However, this one is another that could be in particular danger, because some locals are worried that its new designation could make it less accessible.
11Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Pacific Ocean
66-year-old albatross Wisdom is a mother! Her baby hatched at the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. (Photo: Naomi Blinick/USFWS) pic.twitter.com/9dqZz1abtf— Storm Water Hawaii (@stormwater_hi) March 2, 2017
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is the largest protected area in America, and one of the largest in the world. The area it covers is more than all of the country's national parks combined. Its coral reefs are home to over 7,000 marine species, many of them endangered or not found anywhere else in the world. It's also an important place for Hawaiian cultural heritage, and part of it is designated on the UNESCO World Heritage list — which is a very good thing, because it grants the area an extra level of protection.
These are less than half of the parks that the Trump administration is putting under the review of a man who is known to favor the interests of fossil fuel companies over the rights of people to have access to this natural beauty — or, for that matter, the rights of the animals and plants there to live unbothered.
The presidents who designated these national monuments didn't do so frivolously or without reason. This is something that the Trump administration seems to have trouble grasping, but when deciding how to go forward with this, they could do well to think in terms of long-term importance to the world instead of short-term, short-lived, economy-oriented gains.