My public comment in support of preserving America’s national monuments

July 12, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 12, 2017

On Monday, I happened across this essay by Brent Rose about more than two dozen national monuments that could lose their protected status. This spring, after President Donald Trump ordered Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior, to conduct a review process that may lead to the revocation of some of their status as national monuments, Rose resolved to travel to the 22 monuments located in the continental United States.

I was so moved by Rose’s essay that I decided to leave a public comment on the process at (The period for commenting closed at midnight on Monday.)

The following text is a slightly edited version of the comment that I made:


I’m writing to urge Secretary Zinke to uphold designations of National Monuments and Marine National Monuments unless there is overwhelming evidence that such designations were improperly made and/or that such designations directly harm the public interest.

I would especially caution Secretary Zinke against recommending the reversal of designations of monuments based on commercial or industrial interests, particularly the extraction of fossil fuels. Large blocks of natural land that have been minimally affected by human activities are, almost by definition, becoming harder and harder to find. Commercial or industrial development of current national monuments could have permanent, irreversible consequences.

As Secretary Zinke conducts his work, I respectfully suggest that he bear in mind the guiding spirit of my fellow New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican president whose administration coincided with the opening of the 20th century. The website of the National Park Service notes that Roosevelt, who is known as the conservation president, created the United States Forest Service and signed the Antiquities Act of 1906. “During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land,” the website states.

President Roosevelt wrote and spoke eloquently of the importance of preserving America’s natural heritage. I’ve assembled a short but representative selection of his thoughts on conservation:

“It is … vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird.”

“It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.” — after camping in Yosemite National Park in 1903.

“A grove of giant redwood or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral.”

“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

“And to lose the chance to see frigatebirds soaring in circles above the storm, or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in a shifting maze above the beach — why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists of old time.”

“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”

“I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

“Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”

“It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.”

In closing, I thank Secretary Zinke for his careful consideration of this and other comments as he discharges his responsibilities.



Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation, not dated,

Antiquities Act, not dated,

History & Culture, not dated,

Constance Carter with Ellen Terrell, “Roosevelt, Muir, and The Camping Trip,” Aug. 11, 2016,

Theodore Roosevelt Quotes, not dated,

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