The link below is to an article that reports on the creation of massive new national parks in Chile.
In the few days since President Trump issued his Executive Order on National Monuments, many legal scholars have questioned the legality of his actions under the Antiquities Act. Indeed, if the president attempts to revoke or downsize a monument designation, such actions would be on shaky, if any, legal ground.
But beyond President Trump’s dubious reading of the Antiquities Act, his threats also implicate a suite of other cultural and ecological laws implemented within our national monuments.
By opening a Department of Interior review of all large-scale monuments designated since 1996, Trump places at risk two decades’ worth of financial and human investment in areas such as endangered species protection, ecosystem health, recognition of tribal interests and historical protection.
Why size matters
Trump’s order suggests that larger-scale monuments such as Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, or the Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, run afoul of the Antiquities Act because of their size. Nothing is farther from the truth. The act gives presidents discretion to protect landmarks and “objects of historic or scientific interest” located within federal lands. Designations are not limited to a particular acreage, but rather to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Thus, the size and geographic range of the protected resources dictate the scale of the designation. We would not be properly managing the Grand Canyon by preserving a foot-wide cross-section of its topography in a museum.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity of larger-scale monuments when it affirmed President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1908 designation of the Grand Canyon as “the greatest eroded canyon in the United States” in Cameron v. U.S. in 1920. Cameron, an Arizona prospector-politician, had filed thousands of baseless mining claims within the canyon and on its rim, including the scenic Bright Angel Trail, where he erected a gate and exacted an entrance fee. He challenged Roosevelt’s sweeping designation and lost, spectacularly, because the Grand Canyon’s grandeur was precisely what made it worthy of protection.
By downsizing or dismantling a monument, Trump would be intentionally unprotecting the larger-scale resources our nation has been managing as national treasures. The loss in value would be considerable, and compounded doubly by the lost cultural and ecological progress we have made under related laws.
Cultural costs of downsizing
The Antiquities Act has long been used to protect important archaeological resources. Some of the earliest designations, like El Morro and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, protected prehistoric rock art and ruins as part of the nation’s scientific record. This protection has been particularly critical in the Southwest, where looting and pot hunting remain a significant threat. Similar interests drove the creation of several monuments subject to Trump’s order, including Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument. Thus, any changes to those monuments mean less protection for – and less opportunity to learn from – these archaeological wonders.
But we have learned that our past and our natural world are not merely matters for scientific inquiry to be explained by professors through lectures and field studies. Instead, scientists, archaeologists and federal land managers recognize the need to understand and foster continuing cultural connection between indigenous people and the areas where they and their ancestors have lived, worshipped, hunted and gathered since time immemorial. Many of these places are on federal lands.
While other recent designations recognized the present-day use of monument areas by tribes and their members, Bears Ears National Monument was the first to specifically protect both historic and prehistoric cultural resources and the ongoing cultural value of the area to present-day tribes. Unlike prior monuments, Bears Ears came at the initiative of tribal people, led by a unique inter-tribal coalition that brought together many area residents and garnered support from over 30 tribes nationwide. This coalition also sought collaborative tribal-federal management as a way to meaningfully invigorate cultural protection. As a result, President Obama also established the Bears Ears Commission, an advisory group of elected tribal members with whom federal managers must meaningfully engage in managing the monument.
This national investment in cultural collaboration brings great value – a value utterly ignored by Trump’s order. In fact, under that order, Bears Ears faces an expedited (45-day) review because, as Secretary Ryan Zinke noted in a recent press conference, it is “the most current one.” Though the order includes opportunity for tribal input, the Bears Ears inter-tribal coalition has yet to hear from Secretary Zinke, notwithstanding numerous requests to meet.
Ecological costs of downsizing
Because they preclude development, national monuments are also critically important for ecological protection. In fact, they often serve the objectives of other federal requirements, such as the Endangered Species Act.
For example, Devils Hole National Monument provides the only known habitat for the endangered Devils Hole Pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis). This has meant that groundwater exploitation from nearby development is restricted to protect Pupfish habitat. Similarly, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is home to an array of imperiled wildlife, including the endangered desert tortoise and the endangered California condor, along with many other native species like desert bighorn sheep and peregrine falcons.
Within the protective reach of a national monument, we are also likely to find important stretches of land officially designated by federal agencies as protected land, such as scenic wilderness, wilderness study areas, the Bureau of Land Management’s areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC) or the Forest Service’s research natural areas (RNAs). Each monument’s care is thus interwoven with the management of these other ecologically designated areas, something plainly apparent to the communities and agency officials long working with these lands.
These costs may hit close to home for Zinke since the Missouri River Breaks National Monument, located in his home state of Montana, is on the chopping block. President Clinton designated this 375,000-acre monument in 2001 to protect its biological, geological and historical wealth from the pressures of grazing and oil and gas extraction. Clinton noted that “[t]he area has remained largely unchanged in the nearly 200 years since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled through it on their epic journey.”
The monument contains a National Wild and Scenic River corridor and segments of the Lewis and Clark and Nez Perce National Historic Trails, as well as the Cow Creek Island ACEC. It is the “fertile crescent” for hundreds of iconic game species and provides essential winter range for sage grouse (carefully managed to avoid listing under the ESA) and spawning habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon. Archaeological and historical sites also abound, including teepee rings, historic trails and lookout sites of Meriwether Lewis.
The size of the Missouri River Breaks monument is thus scaled to protect an area in which lie valuable objects and geographic features, and a historic – even monumental – journey took place. And every investment we make in the monument yields a twofold return as it supports our nation’s cultural and ecological obligations under related federal laws.
At the end of the day, while Trump’s order trumpets the possibility that monument downsizing will usher in economic growth, it makes no mention of the extraordinary economic, scientific and cultural investments we have made in those monuments over the years. Unless these losses are considered in the calculus, our nation has not truly engaged in a meaningful assessment of the costs of second-guessing our past presidents.
Michelle Bryan, Professor of Law, The University of Montana; Monte Mills, Assistant Professor of Law & Co-Director, Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic, The University of Montana, and Sandra B. Zellmer, Professor of Law, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
As transportation networks expand and urban areas grow, noise from sources such as vehicle engines is spreading into remote places. Human-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people. It reduces the ability to hear natural sounds, which can mean the difference between life and death for many animals, and degrade the calming effect that we feel when we spend time in wild places.
Protected areas in the United States, such as national parks and wildlife refuges, provide places for respite and recreation, and are essential for natural resource conservation. To understand how noise may be affecting these places, we need to measure all sounds and determine what fraction come from human activities.
In a recent study, our team used millions of hours of acoustic recordings and sophisticated models to measure human-caused noise in protected areas. We found that noise pollution doubled sound energy in many U.S. protected areas, and that noise was encroaching into the furthest reaches of remote areas.
Our approach can help protected area managers enhance recreation opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural sounds and protect sensitive species. These acoustic resources are important for our physical and emotional well-being, and are beautiful. Like outstanding scenery, pristine soundscapes where people can escape the clamor of everyday life deserve protection.
What is noise pollution?
“Noise” is an unwanted or inappropriate sound. We focused on human sources of noise in natural environments, such as sounds from aircraft, highways or industrial sources. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, noise pollution is noise that interferes with normal activities, such as sleeping and conversation, and disrupts or diminishes our quality of life.
Human-caused noise in protected areas interferes with visitors’ experience and alters ecological communities. For example, noise may scare away carnivores, resulting in inflated numbers of prey species such as deer. To understand noise sources in parks and inform management, the National Park Service has been monitoring sounds at hundreds of sites for the past two decades.
Estimating human-generated noise
Noise is hard to quantify at large-landscape scales because it can’t be measured by satellite or other visual observations. Instead researchers have to collect acoustic recordings over a wide area. NPS scientists on our team used acoustic measurements taken from 492 sites around the continental United States to build a sound model that quantified the acoustic environment.
They used algorithms to determine the relationship between sound measurements and dozens of geospatial features that can affect measured average sound levels. Examples include climate data, such as precipitation and wind speed; natural features, such as topography and vegetation cover; and human features, such as air traffic and proximity to roads.
Using these relationships, we predicted how much human-caused noise is added to natural sound levels across the continental United States.
To get an idea of the potential spatial extent of noise pollution effects, we summarized the amount of protected land experiencing human-produced noise three or 10 decibels above natural. These increments represent a doubling and a 10-fold increase, respectively, in sound energy, and a 50 to 90 percent reduction in the distance at which natural sounds can be heard. Based on a literature review, we found that these thresholds are known to impact human experience in parks and have a range of repercussions for wildlife.
Few escapes from noise
The good news is that in many cases, protected areas are quieter than surrounding lands. However, we found that human-caused noise doubled environmental sound in 63 percent of U.S. protected areas, and produced a tenfold or greater increase in 21 percent of protected areas.
Noise depends on how a protected area is managed, where a site is located and what kinds of activities take place nearby. For example, we found that protected areas managed by local government had the most noise pollution, mainly because they were in or near large urban centers. The main noise sources were roads, aircraft, land-use conversion and resource extraction activities such as oil and gas production, mining and logging.
We were encouraged to find that wilderness areas – places that are preserved in their natural state, without roads or other development – were the quietest protected areas, with near-natural sound levels. However, we also found that 12 percent of wilderness areas experienced noise that doubled sound energy. Wilderness areas are managed to minimize human influence, so most noise sources come from outside their borders.
Finally, we found that many endangered species, particularly plants and invertebrates, experience high levels of noise pollution in their critical habitat – geographic areas that are essential for their survival. Examples include the Palos Verdes Blue butterfly, which is found only in Los Angeles County, California, and the Franciscan manzanita, a shrub that once was thought extinct, and is found only in the San Francisco Bay area.
Of course plants can’t hear, but many species with which they interact are affected by noise. For example, noise changes the distribution of birds, which are important pollinators and seed dispersers. This means that noise can reduce the recruitment of seedlings.
Turning down the volume
Noise pollution is pervasive in many protected areas, but there are ways to reduce it. We have identified noisy areas that will quickly benefit from noise mitigation efforts, especially in habitats that support endangered species.
Strategies to reduce noise include establishing quiet zones where visitors are encouraged to quietly enjoy protected area surroundings, and confining noise corridors by aligning airplane flight patterns over roads. Our work provides insights for restoring natural acoustic environments, so that visitors can still enjoy the sounds of birdsong and wind through the trees.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the threat posed by visitors to national parks in the USA.
It’s now five years since the International Year of Biodiversity, and nearly 15% of Earth’s land surface is protected in parks and reserves. By 2020, we should reach the agreed global target of 17%. This is good news for species diversity, right?
Not really. Biodiversity loss continues apace despite these global agreements and conservation actions, and is unlikely to stop any time soon.
We explored this apparent paradox with the help of a simple model that simulates the current relative proportions globally of the area of remaining tropical forest, and the area that has been cleared for agricultural development. We used the model to look at what happens to these proportions when networks of conservation reserves expand.
Our research led to two insights: both the area of forest protection and the area of clearing for development can expand at the same time; and the governance regimes responsible for protected areas can actually be weakened by protected area expansion. This is because pressure for the creation of new protected areas comes largely from public discourse.
Forests and forces
In our model we depicted tropical forestlands as consisting of protected forests; traditionally managed or “unallocated” forests; and cleared agricultural land – plausible categories that broadly reflect the current status and areas.
We then modelled the different governance regimes (and feedbacks such as public discourse) responsible for this current status, regimes that:
a) protect unallocated forest;
b) develop (and clear) unallocated forest for agriculture;
c) maintain current habitat and restore agricultural land to forest, thereby opposing clearing for development.
We use the model to present three plausible scenarios of governance regime and land-use change trajectories.
Our dynamic hypothesis depicted in the figure shows how the driving forces of development and protection, while competing for the remaining stock of forest habitat, do not necessarily oppose each other. Consequently the total stock of forest habitat can decrease while the area of protected forest increases.
The force that directly opposes clearance of forests for development is the one that maintains existing unprotected forest use regimes or that seeks to restore cleared forest.
The relative power of the governance regimes that “develop”, “protect”, or “maintain/restore” will determine what ultimately happens to the area of remaining forest habitat. Biodiversity loss will only stop when the net loss of forest habitat each year is zero – which means halting the clearing of tropical forest for agricultural development, as well as increasing protected areas.
But in the real world we are doing the opposite – investing heavily in the force that drives tropical forest clearing. The leaders of the G20 nations recently gave a huge boost to the power of development regimes, by pledging to invest up to US$70 trillion on new infrastructure projects by the year 2030. This is precisely the kind of driving force that will harm wildlife conservation, and which the growth of protected areas will fail to counter.
It seems counter-intuitive, but our research suggests that increasing the area of the world’s conservation reserves can also reduce the perception of the risk of ongoing biodiversity loss, primarily because the focus on the 17% protection targets takes our eye off the critical issue of halting habitat loss. As a result, the global distribution of protected areas is currently “high and far”, skewed toward mountainous areas and places far from development frontiers. If achieving 17% leads the public to conclude that biodiversity is now safe, it can lower the main feedback currently giving power to the protect force – public pressure for political action.
This is compounded by the phenomenon of extinction debt – the time delay between habitat loss and the resulting extinction of species that live here – which hides the impact of development on wildlife in both protected and unprotected areas.
What do we do about it?
Conservation has traditionally sought to identify and protect “representative samples” of different types of ecosystems. Recently, however, there has been an increased interest in identifying and protecting areas based on cost-effectiveness criteria.
We suggest instead that one useful leverage point for slowing tropical biodiversity decline would be to concentrate on placing protected areas near active agricultural frontiers, which could help to constrain the march of agriculture through tropical forests.
This approach has already been shown to work in urban planning, including in Australia, where it has been used to fight urban sprawl. A second useful leverage point is to set global targets that include both a percentage for protection and an overall percentage for remaining forest habitat. Globally, forest cover now is at 62% of its original extent, while 75% has recently been identified as the extent necessary to stay within planetary boundaries.
Sharing is caring
There is currently much debate in the conservation literature about “land sparing or land sharing”. Our scenarios suggests that while land sparing through rapid protected area expansion has immediate conservation benefits, these benefits are lost over time as species populations eventually crash. The land-sharing scenario, through strengthening the power to maintain current forest habitats, suggests better biodiversity outcomes in the long term.
Realising these long-term benefits may only be possible with a resurgence in traditional forest-management practices that promote wildlife-friendly agriculture, and that restore forest habitat. All too often the governance regimes of traditional forest owners have been subsumed by the State in order to allow commercial forestry or forest clearance for agriculture. However, there are signs that this may be changing in some places through commercially viable drivers of sustainability.
Our analysis suggests that human activity will continue to damage wildlife diversity, in spite of successful efforts to meet the target of protecting 17% of Earth’s land surface. The reason is that a large percentage of natural habitats are disappearing in the face of development, particularly through the clearing of tropical forests for agriculture.
This destruction will continue because the overall balance of land management is still geared towards ongoing clearing for development rather than sustainable re-development of our current human footprint. Getting out of this trap will require an understanding of the processes that reinforce this perverse situation, and the realisation that this system needs to be redesigned.
This is a new frontier in conservation science, and our new analysis is hopefully a first step towards unravelling this complex social-ecological problem.
What we need to do next is to identify the critical feedback relationships that can empower natural resource management, and to put reasonable limits on the power of development regimes. Otherwise, the world’s biodiversity will continue to dwindle even if conservation reserves expand rapidly.
This article was coauthored by Craig Miller, a former researcher with CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems.
Ro Hill is Principal Research Scientist, Ecosystems, Biodiversity Knowledge and Services Program at CSIRO.
Barry Newell is Visiting Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society at Australian National University.
Iain Gordon is Chief Executive at James Hutton Institute.
Michael Dunlop is Senior Research Scientist: land-water-biodiversity-climate at CSIRO.
The link below is to an article reporting on the growing number of visitors to the national parks in New South Wales, which raises the question – ‘why open them to shooters?’