Tomorrow President Barack Obama will designate the Chimney Rock Archeological Area in southwestern Colorado as a new national monument. It will be the nation’s 103rd national monument, and the third that Obama has designated (the others are Fort Ord in California and Fort Monroe in Virginia).
The monument, which encompasses about 4,700 acres, is part of the San Juan National Forest. It is of particular importance to local tribes, as the site was home to the ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians. It was a destination because every 18.6 years, the moon rises exactly between two rock towers — a phenomenon known as a “lunar standstill.”
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “the area is the most culturally significant land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.”
The president has the authority to establish national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect places of “historic or scientific interest.” In total, 16 out of 19 presidents have used the act to establish national monuments, including places like the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty.
Protecting places like Chimney Rock isn’t just about history — it’s also about the economy by supporting jobs through the varied economic impacts of tourism. A study commissioned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation found that making Chimney Rock a national monument will double the amount of visitors to the site from 12,000 to 24,000 people over 5 years, stimulating spending and job growth. It will also double the site’s current economic impacts from $1.2 million to $2.4 million.
A number of recent studies have provided evidence that protecting lands creates both jobs and economic opportunities. For example, a report from Headwaters Economics found that non-metro counties with at least one-third protected public lands saw employment increase by 300 percent. Another found that homes near national wildlife refuges have higher values. And recreation on lands managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior stimulated 403,000 jobs in 2011.
However, Western Republicans have consistently claimed that protecting places for future generations “locks them up” by preventing their development for fossil fuels and mining. And there have been a number of efforts this Congress to limit or even eliminate the president’s authority to designate new national monuments under the Antiquities Act (even Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan voted for such a provision last year).
Members of the Republican-only Congressional Western Caucus have also said that the establishment of new monuments and wilderness areas is “job-killing.” Utah Rep. Rob Bishop (R), who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands, even has gone so far as to state claim that “national monuments and wilderness are not a boon to local economies, but rather a detriment in most scenarios.”
The evidence does not support this assertion. Protected places create enormous economic gains — and we don’t have to drill, mine, and dig up our public lands to realize that value.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.