In his State of the Union address this year, President Obama said that he planned to use his authority to create more protected lands. Last month, he did just that.
Using his powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which grants presidents broad authority to protect historic or ecologically significant sites without congressional approval, Obama has now created 16 national monuments. Designating the country’s newest national monuments, Obama declared that protecting places of natural beauty and historic significance is a truly American ideal.
One of the country’s most popular whitewater rafting areas, a utopian village that saw the birth of the labor rights movement, and a jungle in Hawaii that held World War II prisoners all became national monuments.
Browns Canyon National Monument
The Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado (seen above) preserves one of the country’s most popular whitewater rivers and the 21,500-acre wilderness that encompasses it. Browns Canyon includes much of the upper Arkansas River Valley and the rugged granite cliffs, colorful rock outcroppings and dramatic mountain vistas.
This stretch of the Arkansas River is one of the most popular whitewater destinations in the country, bringing in around 100,000 visitors each year, and Browns Canyon is at the heart of that. The new monument lies about two and a half hours west of Denver in Central Colorado; Salida is the closest town.
“Conservation is a truly American ideal,” Obama said. “The naturalists and industrialists and politicians who dreamt up our system of public lands and waters did so in the hope that by keeping these places, these special places in trust, places of incomparable beauty, places where our history was written, then future generations would value those places the same way as we do.”
I can’t wait to visit!
Pullman National Monument
Obama also used the powers of the presidency to designate the Pullman National Monument, a 203-acre site on the South Side of Chicago, Obama’s hometown.
The Pullman designation honors the neighborhood built by industrialist George Pullman in the 19th century for workers to manufacture luxurious railroad sleeping cars. While the company employed a mostly white workforce to manufacture railroad passenger cars, it also hired former slaves to serve as porters, waiters and maids on its iconic sleeping cars.
In fact, the railroad industry was one of the largest employers of African-Americans in the United States by the early 1900s. Pullman workers played a major role in the rise of the black middle class but when a recession hit, Pullman slashed wages. As workers suffered, they joined the American Railway Union organized by Eugene Debs, and in 1894, called a strike that ended up affecting more than 250,000 workers in 27 states.
Half a century later, the Pullman Porters, under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, formed the first African-American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Randolph went on to become a leader in the Civil Rights Movement.
Obama began his career as a community organizer nearby and said returning to designate the monument “brings back a lot of good memories.”
Honouliuli National Monument
For his third new monument, Obama chose the site of a World War II internment camp in Hawaii for Japanese-American citizens and prisoners of war, to be known as Honouliuli National Monument.
Located on Oahu Island, this former World War II Japanese-American internment camp highlights the devastating consequences of wartime suspension of civil rights. It was soon after Japanese air force strikes on Pearl Harbor that government officials began to selectively round up Japanese-Americans throughout the islands.
An estimated 400 civilian internees and 4,000 prisoners of war were incarcerated in the camp during its five years of operation. The deep gulch was dubbed Jigoku-Dani (Hell Valley) by many internees because of the hot and miserable conditions.
Some Republicans Don’t Like It
Of course, some Republicans have complained that Obama has abused his authority, especially in regard to the Colorado site, the largest in size by far among the three new monuments.
Obama should “cut it out,” said Representative Ken Buck, from Colorado. “He is not king. No more acting like King Barack.”
Representative. Doug Lamborn, also from Colorado, called the move a “top-down, big-government land grab by the president that disenfranchises the concerned citizens in the Browns Canyon region.”
Really? It’s hard to fathom why anyone would disagree with preserving beautiful lands, unless perhaps they know they can’t exploit those lands for their own financial gain?
Outdoors and wildlife groups, by contrast, are thrilled about the Browns Canyon designation, saying it will allow future generations to enjoy its spectacular landscapes, world-class whitewater rafting, hunting and fishing.
And President Obama is building a fine legacy for himself as an environmentalist.