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COMMENTARY: Trump administration must preserve Nevada national monuments

Americans are getting to know Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke better as he spearheads a review of our national monuments. He’s currently taking a close look at America’s most iconic natural, cultural and historic places, including Nevada’s Basin and Range and Gold Butte National Monuments.

This review will likely result in Mr. Zinke’s recommendations to either reduce the size of these monuments, or rescind their protected status altogether (a process that would require congressional approval).

Our national monuments capture the history, culture and stories of all Americans. We hope that Mr. Zinke will recognize that we need more of them, not less. They connect us to our ancestors, and guide how we see our future.

We are encouraged that Mr. Zinke is a fellow outdoorsman, and appreciate his acknowledgement that public land uses such as recreation and energy development are not necessarily in direct conflict. We realize that development is a reality, but it should not come at the expense of lands that we depend upon for recreation, sustenance and the growing tourism economy. Some places are simply too special and deserve to remain protected.

The issue at the heart of this review process is who these lands belong to. The Interior Department is very interested in making sure that there is local input. We agree that local voices are important, but we cannot forget that these lands are owned by all Americans.

In Nevada, there have already been public hearings in which hundreds of local voices were heard in regard to these monuments, prior to their designations.

But it’s not just local voices that matter. People travel from all over the world to Nevada’s Basin and Range National Monument, for example, which covers 704,000 acres. The monument’s Garden and Coal valleys connect eight desert mountain ranges, including Golden Gate, Seaman and Mount Irish. The monument includes archaeological sites, 19th century settlements and Native American rock art that is approximately 4,000 years old; as well as wildlife such as pronghorn, elk desert bighorn sheep, golden eagle, and many species of bat, lizard and snake.

Likewise, Gold Butte National Monument is beloved by visitors from around the country. This part of the Grand Canyon covers nearly 300,000 acres of dramatic desert landscape with red sandstone, twisting canyons, and tree-clad mountains. Visitors can hike to rock art sites, drive to the area’s mining ghost town, which dates back to the 1700s, hunt desert bighorn sheep, or tour the area’s peaks and canyons on horseback.

In addition to offering protection for irreplaceable historic and cultural resources, these monuments also generate economic activity that’s beneficial to everyone. According to the National Park Service, in 2015 national parks received more than 307.2 million visits, resulting in park visitors spending $16.9 billion in local gateway regions (defined as communities within 60 miles of a park).

In Nevada alone, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation economy in 2012 generated 148,000 jobs in the state, $14.9 billion in consumer spending, $4.8 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.0 billion in state and local tax revenue.

We hope that all of this will be considered in Mr. Zinke’s upcoming review. We hope he’ll recommend to President Trump that we need more monuments, not less. And that he has an opportunity to join eight other Republican U.S. presidents, as well as eight Democrats, in protecting these iconic places.

Public land, by definition, is owned by all of us. Whether you’re interested in archaeology, paleontology, wildlife, camping, hiking or fishing, these public lands have something for everyone. They tell our story, the story of all Americans — and speak volumes about what we value.

It’s something we all have in common and it’s something each and every one of us needs to protect.

The public has until Monday to weigh in on this important decision which will impact all Americans for generations to come. Please let Mr. Zinke know that our national monuments are a vital part of our economy and preserving the cultural diversity of our nation.

Camilla Simon is director of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors. Al Martinez is program supervisor at Clark County Parks and Recreation and chairman of the Latino Leadership Council.

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