President Obama's Open Space Legacy

By Sarah Titcomb
Mojave Trails National Monument (Photo Source: The White House)

President Obama designated three new national monuments on February 12th, 2016, propelling him into the record books as the President who has protected the most public lands. While the tradition of protecting land for public enjoyment is not new in the US, the work of ROSS and other organizations have helped to transition land conservation away from primarily protecting areas without any other economic value, to creating parks or designating national monuments in locations to enhance social equity and human health, increase economic opportunities, preserve biodiversity, and help mitigate against climate change. 

Our country is home to some of the most beautiful God-given landscapes in the world. We’re blessed with natural treasures – from the Grand Tetons to the Grand Canyon; from lush forests and vast deserts to lakes and rivers teeming with wildlife. And it’s our responsibility to protect these treasures for future generations, just as previous generations protected them for us. - President Obama 

Sand to Snow National Monument (Photo Source: The White House)

While many point to California’s Yosemite National Park, established by Abraham Lincoln in 1864 as a public trust, as the first of its kind, Andrew Jackson actually protected Hot Springs Reservation in 1832, an area we now know as Hot Springs National Park. The first national park to be protected as such was Yellowstone National Park in 1872 by Ulysses S. Grant. While these presidents took the first steps, Theodore Roosevelt worked to protect over 230 million acres of land during his presidency through wildlife refuges, bird sanctuaries, national landmarks, and the creation of the National Forest Service. The National Park Service was established in 1916 by Woodrow Wilson.

President Obama has now left his own indelible mark on this great presidential history of land conservation. As of February 2016, he has helped protect over 265 million acres of land and water through the designation of 21 national monuments, and the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to nearly half a billion square miles. The three newest national monuments - Mojave Trails National Monument, Sand to Snow National Monument, and Castle Mountain National Monument - are located within California, and have environmental as well as recreational, academic, archaeological, and cultural significance. More specifically, they include “ancient Native American trading routes, World War II-era training camps, and the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of Route 66,” as well as, some “of the most biodiverse areas in Southern California” (The White House). Although, even with the billions of acres of land and water under conservation in the U.S., more must be done to select the priority areas for species and humans alike. On a local scale, the ROSS team is working diligently with regional stakeholders to protect the open space network that makes the Central Puget Sound such an attractive place to live, work, and play.  

President Obama's work is a continuation of all those who came before him who understood the need to preserve our nation’s open spaces. To read more about how past presidents protected open spaces, please see this article from National Geographic.

Castle Mountain National Monument (Photo Source: The White House) 





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