Updated: Republicans Criticize New National Monuments.....And Push For National Historical Park

Editor's note: This updates with details on how the National Park Service acquired three new national monuments, budgetary issues, and comment from New Mexico residents that counters Rep. Bishop's assertion that the public wasn't involved in the decision to create the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

No out-of-pocket expenses were required by the National Park Service to take control of three national monuments designated this week by President Obama, and contrary to claims by two Republican congressmen many members of the public supported the designations.

Properties for the First State National Monument in Delaware and the Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland were donated at no cost to the Park Service, according to the Park Service and The Conservation Fund, which arranged the donations through a $20 million charitable gift and preservation easements bestowed by the state and local governments in Delaware.

"There were no acquisition costs by the National Park Service," Mike Litterest, a public affairs specialist in the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters, said Tuesday afternoon during a phone call.

As for the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, the National Park Foundation came up with nearly $700,000 from its African American Experience Fund to purchase Col. Young's home in Wilberforce, Ohio, from the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity's Friendship Foundation. Col. Young was a member of the Omega fraternity.

"It is an honor to help bring this historic landmark into its rightful place in the National Park System," said Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. "Col. Charles Young is an indelible figure in our nation's history and the African American legacy. We are proud to help raise awareness of his remarkable story through this valuable donation."

U.S. Reps. Doc Hastings, R-Washington, and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, had complained that President Obama was designating these monuments and two others on U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands at a time when the federal government can least afford the cost, and that he sidestepped the public process in doing so.

Mr. Litterst said that while there will be some operating costs for the rest of this fiscal year for each of the monuments, he said they will be covered from within current NPS budgets in the regions where the monuments are located.

"As far as operating costs, they're going to be minimal at each of them. There are acting superintendents that are being assigned to each of the sites," he said. "Since they don't have the authority to spend money, since they don't have a budget, the long-term budgets are being formulated now and should show up when the 2014 budget comes out."

The acting superintendents will be responsible for crafting management plans that would detail staffing levels and budgets, said Mr. Litterest.

In separate press releases Reps. Hastings and Bishop attacked the president's use of the Antiquities Act to designate the monuments.

"If these designations are worthy of implementation, then they should stand up on their own merits during the open and fair Congressional process, which prioritizes public input. The use of the Antiquities Act cuts out public participation. There is a right way to designate federal lands, and there is a wrong way. Executive fiat is unquestionably the wrong way and is an abuse of executive privilege," Mr. Bishop said in a press release.

Mr. Hastings focused his comments on the First State National Monument in Delaware, complaining that, “The Obama Administration not only sees the sequester as an opportunity to make automatic spending reductions as painful as possible on the American people, it’s also a good time for the President to dictate under a century-old law that the government spend money it doesn’t have on property it doesn’t even own.

"President Obama has closed the White House to public tours but he’s unilaterally ordering the National Park Service to spend scarce dollars on little-known, privately-owned property in Delaware," said the Republican, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.

Mr. Hastings' comments Monday came 10 days after he pointed to bipartisan support in reintroducing legislation that would create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, with units of the park in Washington state, New Mexico, and Tennessee. The release did not outline how that park would be paid for.

"The establishment of this park will ensure that this history is preserved and that facilities, such as Hanford’s B Reactor, will remain open and accessible for future generations to visit," Mr. Hastings said March 15 in a press release.

In his denouncement of the five new monuments, Mr. Bishop, while questioning how the government could afford these properties, also said the president's reliance on the Antiquities Act denied the public its role in weighing in on the value of these monuments.

However, not only have Delaware officials long sought a unit of the National Park System, but the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, along with northern New Mexico leaders, pushed back against the Utah Republican, claiming he, as chairman of the House's subcommittee on national parks and public lands, had refused to schedule a hearing on the proposal.

“Contrary to Rep. Bishop’s statements, the idea of protecting Rio Grande del Norte has been widely discussed and strongly supported by the people who live in the affected region,” said Max Trujillo of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Rep. Bishop’s reaction seems guided by his own anti-conservation ideology and ignores the reality that President Obama’s action comes only after years of inaction by Congress. The president is simply using the authority granted by law to give this region what local residents have sought for so long.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also attended a public meeting in Taos, New Mexico, last December 14 that drew nearly 200 area residents who supported the designation. And in a letter to Congress and the White House sent in December, more than 100 northern New Mexico business owners supported monument designation as a boon to the local economy.

“One of the great things about national monuments is that they attract visitors who book trips with outfitters, eat in restaurants, stay in lodges and spend money in stores,” said Francisco Guevara, a lifelong Taos County resident and owner of Los Rios River Runners, in a release. “My business and hundreds of others, and the livelihood of our employees, will be helped by the designation of Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument.”

Supporters of the national monument include the Taos County Commission, Taos Town Council, Taos Pueblo, state legislators, local businesses and chambers of commerce, as well as ranchers, sportsmen, veterans, and Boy Scouts.

Phone and email messages left by the Traveler for both Mr. Hastings and Mr. Bishop to further explain their positions on the monuments and the historical park proposal have not been returned.

Comments

This point was made earlier on another thread. One response was that National Monuments don't cost the NPS anything. Apparently these Congressmen disagree. Another good topic for a little investigative reporting.

Yes, some phones calls are in order. For starters, these places likely already have some barebones budgets. The question is how quickly would they be ramped up to "official" monuments and how much would that cost above and beyond current funding.

Just one more demonstration of the hypocrisy that seems to abound in one particular party in Washington. Cut spending unless it will happen in MY territory.

Not sure how you come up with that in this case Lee. Two of the monuments are in two (of three) states being proposed for the Manhatten Project Park and the third state ( Tennessee) isn't represented by Hastings or Bishop. In fact your favorite whipping boy, Bishop, has no territory at stake in either proposal. I guess when you are a hammer, you see everything as a nail.

Given the current and future outlook for the NPS budget situation, I'll admit to mixed feelings about some of these new areas—especially the one in Delaware, which seems to be the culmination of a long search to find anything that would allow the state to finally get its "own national park."

Speaking about the new monument in Delaware, Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) offered some insights into one of the motivations for this new area when he said, "our state can now welcome the many economic opportunities that surround a new national monument and can help boost local businesses and create jobs.”

There's some sad irony in those comments. It's presumed that NPS designation for almost any site will attract more visitors than state, local or private operation of the same site, and NPS designation therefore will benefit the local economy. Why is that the case?

The answer is that many visitors to NPS areas expect to find good facilities and services, including quality interpretation, adequate maintenance of historic structures...and clean restrooms. The irony is that continued budget-cutting makes it increasingly difficult (or impossible) to continue to meet those expectations. Adding new areas without adequate funding simply means existing parks will get an even smaller sliver of the shrinking budget.

On the flip side, two of these new monuments, Río Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico and San Juan Islands National Monument, will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which already manages a lot of the land included in the new sites. In addition, the BLM typically doesn't invest as much as the NPS in terms of facilities or public use staffing for their sites (and most experienced travelers don't expect to find as many of those amenities at BLM locations.)

Given the pressures on the BLM for "extractive" use of its territory, the monument designations offer some major advantages. The proclamation for those two monuments notes in part, "All Federal lands and interests in lands within the boundaries of this monument are hereby appropriated and withdrawn from all forms of entry, location, selection, sale, leasing, or other disposition under the public land laws, including withdrawal from location, entry, and patent under the mining laws, and from disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing, other than by exchange that furthers the protective purposes of this proclamation."

And no, EC, I''m not opposed to leasing of some BLM land for oil and gas or similar activities, but all acres are not created equal in terms of overall resource values, and in cases such as these, there are values beyond extractive uses that are worth protecting. Yep, that's strictly a subjective opinion.

For anyone interested in learning more about the Delaware monument, the latest National Geographic Magazine has a feature on the area that delves into its history and values.


Yep, that's strictly a subjective opinion.


And one I don't disagree with.

No out of pocket expenses.....on the aquisition. This is true of many things: diseases, debt, conception, etc.

Let's have an honest conversation of cost though. While I am sure most of us here would agree that a number of the aquisitions are a good idea, I don't think that should preclude us from having honest dialogue on the prudence of adding NPS sites at this time, possibly at the expense of other NPS properties.

We ran an article on the Traveler about three years ago about the proposed Manhattan Project NHP . Most of the points made back in 2010 - and the comments by readers - are still valid.

If this park should become a reality, one of my biggest concerns is that any legislation should ensure that the NPS will not inherit any of the enormous hazmat clean-up costs at the Hanford site.

Yep, definitely appears to be more political hypocrisy by Mr. Bishop. According to the sources cited above, as chairman of the House's subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, Bishop refused to schedule a hearing on proposals for at least some of the new areas - and then complains that the Antiquities Act designations bypass "the open and fair Congressional process, which prioritizes public input."

Bishop may not have any of these parks "in his territory," but as chair of the House Subcommittee on Parks and Public lands, Bishop has his grubby fingers in the pie anyway.

The designation of the First State National Monument mystifies me, a long-time former resident of Delaware. These are not the most historically significant sites in the local area. Although pleasant and worthy of continued preservation (by private trusts or as county or perhaps state parks), they lack national significance.

NPS is saddled with dozens of sites of only minor or local significance. Given the budget constraints, NPS needs a non-political Park Closing Commission (analogous to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission).

A correction for Lee: It's not the Subcommittee on Parks and Public Lands any more. It was renamed (and slightly re-purposed) the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation at the beginning of this Congress. This was done expressly so that Rep. Bishop could continue as the chairman, thereby bypassing the House rules that limit chairmen to three terms.

As for local input, the San Juan Islands and Rio Grande monuments were the subjects of ongoing local campaigns, as has been pointed out. Here in California, Rep. Bishop forced Rep. Sam Farr to strip out the wilderness provisions from the Pinnacles National Park "upgrade" bill in order for it to proceed. This, despite the fact that there was widespread support for and no opposition to the potential wilderness designation.

The simple fact is: Rob Bishop is just not in favor of any special designations of any sort for significant federal public lands.

Mike - thanks for the clarification about the House committee. More confirmation that the good ol' boy system is alive and well when it comes to entrenched power in Congress.

I don't know if Mike's claim is accurate or not, but I think before we cite it as "confirmation" of anything it would be good to ask him to document that " This was done expressly so that Rep. Bishop could continue as the chairman"