Obama Designates More Wilderness

President Barack Obama has used his pen to again expand protected lands under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Except this time, he helped protect the ocean.

Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge
Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Through his presidential power, he has extended the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the central Pacific Ocean by hundreds of thousands of square miles, reports the Washington Post. This extension comes on the heels of President George W. Bush’s initial dedication in 2009. Obama technically dedicated this expansion in June, but Sept. 25 marked his designation for this area as the largest marine reserve in the world.

Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge
Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

President Obama’s main reason for this conservation is to preserve deep-sea coral reefs and marine ecosystems that are extremely affected by issues relating to climate change (like ocean acidification). Another includes protection from off-shore mining. This area is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and is home to many wildlife refuges. Commercial fishing has been banned to protect the wildlife and coral.

Grey reef sharks protected by the National Monument status
Grey reef sharks protected by the National Monument status

This is not Obama’s first designation, nor will it likely be his last. He has been criticized throughout his term for legally bypassing Congress to designate these government-owned public lands. The argument by the GOP stands that Obama is making the National Parks Service spend money they don’t have.

Last year, he designated the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico, which I was able to visit in June – and it is stunning.

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument from my trip in June 2014
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument from my trip in June 2014

The other 12 monuments dedicated by Obama throughout his two terms include the following:

  • Prehistoric Trackways National Monument, New Mexico (March 2009)
  • Fort Monroe Nat. Mon., Virginia (Nov. 2011)
  • Fort Ord Nat. Mon., California (April 2012)
  • Chimney Rock Nat. Mon., Colorado (Sept. 2012)
  • Cesar E. Chavez Nat. Mon., California (Oct. 2012)
  • First State Nat. Mon., Delaware (March 2013)
  • Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Nat. Mon., Ohio (March 2013)
  • Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Nat. Mon., Maryland (March 2013)
  • Rio Grande del Norte Nat. Mon., New Mexico (March 2013)
  • San Juan Islands Nat. Mon., Washington (March 2013)
  • Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Nat. Mon., New Mexico (May 2014)
  • Expansion: Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument (June-Sept. 2014)

Environmental groups, conservationists and private citizens have all praised Obama for his actions over the past few years, and I have to agree with them. I grew up going to wilderness areas and still enjoy spending my vacations there, and if they aren’t protected, we will have nowhere to retreat in the future.

Coral at Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge
Coral at Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge

President Obama is not yet on the Wilderness Society’s list of “Great Conservationist Presidents,” but he is surely in the running now.

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