Following the recent leak of a Department of Interior memo about preserving America's public lands, some members of Congress have aggressively declared their support for a corporate takeover of federally-owned lands. You'd think they would be better informed about the tremendous benefits of protected lands that belong to the American people. Sadly, some short-sighted politicians have presented a bogus choice between creating jobs and better protecting areas that the federal government -- and therefore the American people -- already own.
With the news this week, some politicians have many people believing that ideas being considered by the Obama Administration constitute a "land grab" by the federal government. Let's be clear -- the land in question is already existing federal property. The question is: should that land be used to preserve America's national treasures, or should we allow its future to be put at risk by special interests that make large campaign contributions to Washington politicians?
Ironically, a forward thinking Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt, with the support of a Republican led Congress, passed the Antiquities Act in 1906. The result of that landmark legislation was the protection of much of America's National Park System that we have come to know and cherish. They knew then what is still true today -- that we need to appropriately preserve and protect American lands for Americans.
Since that time, Presidents -- Republican and Democrat alike -- have used the Antiquities Act to create and preserve some of America's most treasured places. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover blocked greedy developers from destroying the Grand Canyon. President Calvin Coolidge set aside land for the Statue of Liberty. President Eisenhower protected the C&O Canal and in 2009, President George W. Bush created three new marine protected areas in the Pacific Ocean.
The use of the Antiquities Act has enjoyed broad bipartisan support until now, as some in Washington seek to divide our country for political gain this November. A few extremists in Congress want to return to the days of the 19th century, when greedy exploitation of our public lands was used to benefit a few moneyed interests that ruled the day.
Use of the Antiquities Act to protect treasured lands is good for Americans and good for our economy. The economic benefit of our National Park System, which comprises much less land than national forests or the Bureau of Land Management, is well documented. National parks support $13.3 billion of local private-sector economic activity and 267,000 private-sector jobs. Business leaders across America agree that regional economies benefit greatly from park tourism, which increased by nearly 5 percent last year during the recession. A recent economic study of the nation's national parks found that every federal dollar invested generates at least four dollars in economic value to the public.
On top of the obvious economic impact of our national monuments and parks, the benefit for American families who spend time together in these wonderful places is a benefit you simply cannot put a price tag on.
Cynical attempts to portray preservation of some already public lands as a battle between jobs and protecting wildlife are divisive and misguided. Our National Park System faces great challenges and is in need of preservation in order to survive its 2016 centennial and beyond.
A recent commission, led by the bipartisan team of former Senators Howard Baker (R-TN) and J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA), presented a vision and plan to Congress for our National Park System to thrive in its second century. The report includes a thoughtful, innovative and workable plan for preserving and expanding America's best idea -- our national parks.
As we continue to advocate for the protection of our treasured lands, partisans in Washington ought to remember that Americans across the country are the ones who have identified places in their local communities that they cherish and want preserved and protected for future generations. Elected officials who forget that fact and instead side with corporate special interests do so at their own peril.
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