Washington, D.C. – This week Conservation Lands Foundation and representatives from seven Indigenous and conservation organizations from across the west are meeting with Bureau of Land Management staff and more than 20 members of Congress to urge them to protect more public lands, safeguard the bedrock laws that enable their protection, and properly fund their management.
“Protecting public lands that have immense cultural and ecological value is a win-win for the Biden administration,” said David Feinman, Government Affairs Director with Conservation Lands Foundation. “Conserving more of these places is the single biggest opportunity the administration has to make progress on its climate goals and to partner with Tribes on preserving their ancestral lands.”
Key priorities for advocates are protecting public lands that are sacred to Indigenous Tribes, including expanding Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in northern California. Yesterday, on Tuesday March 7, California Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein and Representatives John Garamendi and Mike Thompson reintroduced the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act. This bill would permanently protect part of Molok Luyuk (Condor Ridge) which is adjacent to the existing Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.
“As a tribal citizen of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, a tribe who was landless until 2020, I understand first hand the difficulty that tribes face when confronting the lack of access to land,” said Caressa Nguyen, Tribal Liaison/Grassroots Organizer with Tuleyome in California. “That’s why this week, I’m urging leaders in Congress to support the expansion of Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument and tribal co-management. When tribes are able to manage their ancestral lands, it increases a landscape’s resilience to natural disasters and benefits everyone.”
Advocates also ask Congress to conserve important public lands in Oregon, which they say could help advance the administration’s climate and conservation goals.
“President Biden has called for protecting 30% of our public lands and waters by 2030, and in Oregon there are imminent opportunities to help reach this goal,” said Karly Foster, Campaign Manager with Oregon Natural Desert Association. “This week I’m asking leaders to support protecting Oregon’s high-desert public lands and rivers, including the Owyhee Canyonlands and wildlife corridors in the Greater Hart-Sheldon area.
Moreover, the groups ask that Congress increase funding for managing the National Conservation Lands, which comprise approximately 35 million acres of public lands nationwide and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Since 2000, the system of National Conservation Lands has nearly doubled in size but funding to properly care for these lands has not kept pace with this growth. Increased support for these important landscapes can help conserve Indigenous and other cultural resources against vandalism and other threats, restore fish and wildlife habitat after years of neglect, and improve visitor experience and recreational infrastructure such as trails and signage.
They also request that Congress oppose any efforts to undermine the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law that grants U.S. Presidents the ability to designate federal public lands, waters, and cultural and historical sites as national monuments. To date, 18 Presidents (9 Republicans and 9 Democrats) have used the Antiquities Act to designate more than 130 national monuments.
Finally, groups urge the Department of the Interior to use all of the tools at the agency’s disposal to expand and defend existing protections for public lands nationwide. This could include designating lands with wilderness characteristics as Areas of Environmental Concern or Wilderness Study Areas.