Obama's National Monuments Are a Big Deal

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A monumental legacy

Photo: Bob Wick [CC BY 2.0]/U.S. Bureau of Land Management

Former President Barack Obama accomplished a lot in eight years. Beyond reviving the economy and cutting unemployment, his legacy includes major environmental feats such as reducing air pollution, boosting clean energy and making the U.S. a global leader in fighting climate change.

It also includes many smaller moves that add up to something pretty big: the creation and expansion of national monuments. These are federally protected areas that feature "objects of historic or scientific interest," and can be established directly by Congress or the president.

Faced with gridlock on Capitol Hill, Obama famously relied on executive orders to implement many of his policies. (It's worth noting, however, that his executive orders rank 16th among all presidents, behind George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan). And thanks to the Antiquities Act of 1906 — a law signed by Theodore Roosevelt, who used it 18 times — those orders include a variety of protected places around the country. Obama designated 29 national monuments during his tenure, more than any other president, and also substantially expanded four others.

A haze of uncertainty now hangs over many of Obama's executive orders, including those 33 national monuments. In April 2017, President Donald Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review any monument that covers at least 100,000 acres and was created since Jan. 1, 1996.

The review follows Republican opposition to certain monuments, especially Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. In December 2017, Trump announced a controversial shrinkage of Bears Ears by more than 80 percent, along with a 45 percent reduction of Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante. Zinke's final report also urged Trump to shrink or reshuffle several others, including Nevada's Gold Butte; Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou; Maine's Katahdin Woods and Waters; Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean; both Rose Atoll and Pacific Remote Islands in the Pacific Ocean; and New Mexico's Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as well as Rio Grande Del Norte.

Congress has "clear authority" to abolish or shrink monuments, according to a 2016 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), and presidents can modify sites set aside by their predecessors. Still, the CRS adds, they may have trouble repealing them outright:

"No President has ever abolished or revoked a national monument proclamation, so the existence or scope of any such authority has not been tested in courts. However, some legal analyses since at least the 1930s have concluded that the Antiquities Act, by its terms, does not authorize the President to repeal proclamations, and that the President also lacks implied authority to do so."

To highlight what's at stake, here are photos and facts about each of the 29 national monuments created by Obama — plus the four existing sites he expanded. Click through the images and scan the details for a reminder of why these places are worth protecting.

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Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Photo: U.S. Bureau of Land Management
  • Where: Southeastern Utah
  • What: Twin buttes with deep significance for Native American cultures, surrounded by 1.35 million acres of stunning spires, canyons, mesas and mountains
  • When: Established December 2016
  • Why: Named for their resemblance to ursine ears, Utah's Bears Ears Buttes are the anchors of a vivid landscape that has hosted native people for hundreds of generations. It's dotted with ancient artifacts, rock art, cliff dwellings and ceremonial sites, and remains sacred to many Native American cultures, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation and Zuni Tribe. A tropical sea covered the area 300 million years ago, leaving a wealth of fossils such as dinosaurs, giant amphibians and mammal-like reptiles. There's an array of modern wildlife, too, from tiger salamanders, tree frogs and night snakes to badgers, bald eagles, bobcats and ringtails. The area is renowned for its starry skies and tranquil silence, and has flirted with federal protection since at least 1936, when Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes proposed a monument designation. Eighty years later, thanks largely to Native American advocacy, President Obama heeded that advice.
  • Update: In late 2017, President Trump announced plans to shrink the monument, which has been opposed by several state and federal Republican leaders. Native American tribes who consider the land sacred say they'll sue to prevent the monument's size reduction.
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Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada

Photo: U.S. Bureau of Land Management
  • Where: Southeastern Nevada
  • What: Nearly 300,000 acres of dramatic geology, wildlife habitat and human history
  • When: Established December 2016
  • Why: The Gold Butte area is decorated with deep red sandstone, twisting canyons, conifer forests and snowcapped mountains. It has supported human residents for at least 12,000 years, and still holds ancient artifacts like pottery, agave roasting pits, projectile points and rock art, including the famed Kohta Circus and Falling Man petroglyph sites. Europeans began arriving in the late 18th century, and by 1865, Mormon pioneers had built settlements there. The area experienced a brief mining boom after gold was found in the early 1900s, but it was mostly abandoned by 1910, and its remnants have since become a ghost town. Geological highlights include the Virgin Mountains, the colorful Aztec Sandstone and a still-expanding, 13,000 square-foot sinkhole known as Devil's Throat. The area offers critical refuge for rare animals — including the Mojave desert tortoise, relict leopard frog and banded Gila monster — and also provides an important wildlife corridor between the Virgin Mountains and Lake Mead for large mammals like bighorn sheep and mountain lions.
  • Update: This monument is one of several being targeted by the Trump administration for a size reduction or management changes.
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Reconstruction Era National Monument, South Carolina

Photo: Timothy Brown/Flickr
  • Where: Beaufort County, South Carolina
  • What: A collection of historic sites near South Carolina's southern coast, totaling 15 acres in the city of Beaufort, the town of Port Royal and Saint Helena Island
  • When: Established January 2017
  • Why: This monument is one of three President Obama created on Jan. 12, 2017, to honor the American Civil Rights Movement (along with the Birmingham Civil Rights and Freedom Riders national monuments, both in Alabama). It commemorates the Reconstruction Era — a period of major transformation in the United States, spanning from the Civil War until the start of Jim Crow racial segregation in the 1890s — by focusing on several historic sites around Beaufort County, South Carolina. These include the Penn School, an African-American cultural and educational center founded in 1862 on Saint Helena Island, and Camp Saxton, a former plantation in Port Royal that was occupied by the Union Army during the Civil War and hosted ceremonies celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
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Fort Ord National Monument, California

Photo: U.S. Bureau of Land Management
  • Where : Monterey Bay, California
  • What: Former U.S. military post spanning 14,658 acres on the Pacific coast
  • When: Established April 2012; public use allowed from dawn to dusk
  • Why: Fort Ord is like a time machine, offering a pristine pocket of California coast amid the increasingly developed Monterey Bay area. Dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch, its dunes form undulating landscapes that host a unique array of wildlife, including badgers, bobcats, California quail, golden eagles, horned lizards and pumas. Fort Ord now protects at least 35 rare species, and some plants rely on it for 50 to 90 percent of their global habitat. It also has more than 86 miles of trails to explore on foot, bike or horseback. The area owes its undeveloped state largely to its role as a U.S. Army post from World War I until 1994.
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Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, New Mexico

Photo: Patrick Alexander/BLM
  • Where: Mesilla Valley, New Mexico
  • What: 496,330 acres spanning the Organ Mountains, Desert Peaks, Potrillo Mountains and Doña Ana Mountains
  • When: Established May 2014; operating hours vary by season and location
  • Why: The Organ Mountains are a steep, angular range, with spires jutting from the Chihuahuan Desert to 9,000 feet above sea level. This scenic area of rocky peaks, narrow canyons and open woodlands stretches from the desert floor to high ponderosa pines, and is popular for photography, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping and wildlife viewing. The Desert Peaks include the Robledo Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas and Doña Ana Mountains, characterized by peaks rising steeply from flat plains. The Potrillo Mountains are the most remote part of the monument, comprising a volcanic landscape of cinder cones, lava flows and craters. The Doña Anas have extensive hiking trails, equestrian trails, mountain bike trails, rock climbing routes and some limited routes for motorized use.
  • Update: This monument is one of several being targeted by the Trump administration for a size reduction or management changes.
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First State National Historical Park, Delaware

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Where: Seven locations around Delaware
  • What: A collection of historic sites in northern and central Delaware
  • When: Established as national monument in 2013; renamed national historical park in 2015. Operating hours and seasons vary by location.
  • Why: Until 2013, Delaware was the only U.S. state with no national parks, monuments or other NPS units — which was odd, since it was the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. So Obama created the First State National Monument in 2013, which was later redesignated a national historical park by Congress. It's an array of sites relevant to the state's rich history, from the Native American Lenape tribe — who occupied the area long before Europeans arrived — through colonial times and the American Revolution. Sites include the state capital's Dover Green Historic District, the plantation of U.S. founding father John Dickinson, the New Castle Court House Museum, Sweden's old Fort Christina, and Beaver Valley, which spans 1,100 acres of rolling hills and forest along the Brandywine River.
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San Juan Islands National Monument, Washington

Photo: U.S. Bureau of Land Management
  • Where: San Juan Islands, Washington
  • What: 75 separate sites, totaling about 1,000 acres of wildlife habitat, lighthouses and archaeological sites across the San Juan Islands
  • When: Established March 2013; operating hours vary by season and location
  • Why: Native Coast Salish people began using the San Juan Islands about 12,000 years ago, and built fishing villages there in recent centuries. Remains of these villages are now cultural and archaeological treasures, but this monument also protects habitats ranging from forests, grasslands and wetlands to rocky balds, bluffs, tidal pools and sandy beaches. These are home to wildlife including orcas, seals, river otters, bald eagles and the rare island marble butterfly. The balds and bluffs alone host more than 200 native species of moss.
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Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, Maryland

Photo: NPS
  • Where: Dorchester County, Maryland
  • What: 11,750 acres of landscapes that Harriet Tubman used to help herself and others escape slavery via the Underground Railroad
  • When: Established March 2013; visitor center opens March 11, 2017
  • Why: Abolitionist and former slave Harriet Tubman is a titan of American history, repeatedly risking her life before the U.S. Civil War to help nearly 70 enslaved people reach new lives of freedom. Located partly within the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, this monument is relatively unchanged since Tubman's time, letting visitors envision the experiences of those who fled slavery on the Underground Railroad. It's also still largely unfinished, but a visitor center is scheduled to open to the public in March 2017.
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Mojave Trails National Monument, California

Photo: Bob Wick/BLM
  • Where: San Bernardino County, California
  • What: 1.6 million acres of mountains, lava flows, fossil beds and sand dunes
  • When: Established February 2016
  • Why: Mojave Trails partially surrounds Mojave National Preserve, providing a connection to Joshua Tree National Park as well as two other national monuments (Castle Mountains and Sand to Snow). It protects a mosaic of mountains, fossil beds and ancient lava flows, but the focal points are its sand dunes, notably the pristine Cadiz Dunes. It's home to many rare plant species — including scrub lotus, rosy two-tone beardtongue, Emory's crucifixion-thorn and Borrego milkvetch — as well as a wide array of animals. (A few examples: burrowing owls, prairie falcons, kit foxes, ringtails, pumas, bighorn sheep, chuckwallas and desert tortoises.) Humans have also used the Mojave Trails area for millennia as a travel corridor, linking the Pacific Coast to Southwestern deserts and beyond.
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Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

Photo: Hdc Photo/Shutterstock
  • Where: San Juan National Forest, Colorado
  • What: 4,726 acres of archaeological sites and alpine wilderness
  • When: Established September 2012; open May 15 through Sept. 30
  • Why: Chimney Rock is named after rock pinnacles that overlook an ancient community built by people from the the Pueblo II culture (900 to 1150 C.E.). The area continues to hold special significance for today's Native American peoples, thanks to nearly 200 archaeological resources dating back to the Pueblo II period. Ancestral Puebloans used their knowledge of astronomy in the community's design, and the pinnacles frame multiple astronomical alignments, including the northern lunar standstill, summer solstice, equinoxes and the Crab Nebula. It represents "one of the best recognized archaeo-astronomical resources in North America," according to the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees the site.
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Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine

Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior
  • Where: Penobscot County, Maine
  • What: 87,500 acres of North Maine Woods and the East Branch of the Penobscot River
  • When: Established August 2016
  • Why: The land for this monument was donated to the U.S. government by Roxanne Quimby, a Maine philanthropist and co-founder of Burt's Bees. It includes a part of the Maine Woods that's rich in biodiversity, and that's known for its excellent places to hike, canoe, hunt, fish, snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski. On top of protecting unique American geology, biodiversity and recreational opportunities, the monument supports climate resilience in the region. The protected area, along with neighboring Baxter State Park to the west, keeps this large landscape intact, bolstering the forest's resilience against climate change. In addition to the land itself, Quimby also donated $20 million for the NPS to operate and maintain the monument, and pledged to raise another $20 million for the same purpose.
  • Update: This monument is one of several being targeted by the Trump administration for a size reduction or management changes.
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Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico

Photo: Bob Wick/BLM-California
  • Where: Taos County, New Mexico
  • What: 242,500 acres of high plains, canyons and volcanic cones in northern New Mexico
  • When: Established March 2013; open year-round, with day-use hours from 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
  • Why: This monument sprawls across nearly 380 square miles of New Mexico's Taos Plateau, with an average elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level. The area is dotted with volcanic cones and steep canyons cut by ancient rivers. The Rio Grande, for one, carves an 800-foot-deep gorge through layers of volcanic basalt and ash. Ute Mountain is the monument's tallest volcanic cone, towering more than 10,000 feet over the landscape. Popular activities here include whitewater rafting, hunting, fishing, hiking and mountain biking.
  • Update: This monument is one of several being targeted by the Trump administration for a size reduction or management changes.
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Basin and Range National Monument, Nevada

Photo: Bob Wick/BLM
  • Where: Lincoln and Nye counties, southeastern Nevada
  • What: 704,000 acres of sprawling Great Basin landscapes
  • When: Established July 2015
  • Why: Aside from the stark beauty of its scenery, Basin and Range National Monument also preserves the legacies of local human culture going back 13,000 years, including prehistoric petroglyphs. The Basin and Range area was mostly unknown to European-Americans until the 1820s, but Mormon settlers arrived in the mid-19th century, followed by miners in the 1860s. Ranchers brought sheep and cattle during the late 1800s, and ranching continues to this day. "The vast, rugged landscape redefines our notions of distance and space," according to the Bureau of Land Management, "and brings into sharp focus the will and resolve of the people who have lived here." The monument proclamation still allows modern historic uses of the area, like hunting, fishing, livestock grazing and military training operations.
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Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Alabama

Photo: National Parks Conservation Association/Flickr
  • Where: Birmingham, Alabama
  • What: Historic sites totaling about 0.9 acre in downtown Birmingham, including the site of a deadly 1963 church bombing
  • When: Established January 2017
  • Why: Birmingham, Alabama, was the setting for several key events during the American Civil Rights Movement, including large-scale peaceful protests as well as violent tactics by police and terrorist attacks by white supremacists. President Obama commemorated this history on Jan. 12, 2017, by creating the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. It features the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four girls ages 11 to 14 were killed in a 1963 bombing by a white supremacist; the A.G. Gaston Motel, which was frequented by Civil Rights leaders and was also bombed in 1963; and Kelly Ingram Park, an important staging ground for many of the city's protests against segregationist policies.
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Fort Monroe National Monument, Virginia

Photo: U.S. Army
  • Where: Chesapeake Bay, Virginia
  • What: Former U.S. military base on a 565-acre peninsula
  • When: Established November 2011; operating hours vary by site and season
  • Why: Fort Monroe spans centuries of American history, playing a central role during many important milestones. It served as the backdrop for events that led to the beginning of slavery in England's American colonies, for example, and the end of slavery in the United States. The peninsula features more than 3 miles of open beachfront on its northern stretch, and the 63-acre stone Fort Monroe to the south. Inside the fort's moated walls is a stand of mature live oak trees, one of which — the Algernourne Oak — is thought to be nearly 500 years old.
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Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, California

Photo: Bob Wick/BLM
  • Where: Portions of seven counties in Northern California
  • What: 330,780 acres in the California Coast Ranges
  • When: Established July 2015
  • Why: Many of this area's peaks, including Snow and Goat mountains, were hidden under the ocean in the Jurassic Period. Tectonic plates later shoved them into the crust and then back into the atmosphere, where they now rise up to 7,000 feet. Marine fossils can still be found here, as can evidence of human history dating back 11,000 years. Today, a wide range of ecosystems thrive at various elevations, nurturing some of the richest biodiversity in California — and potential corridors for wildlife fleeing climate change. Chaparral and oak fade to conifers, Jeffrey pines and incense cedars at higher elevations, hosting threatened species like northern spotted owls and California coastal chinook salmon, as well as bald eagles, black bears, river otters, Tule elk, pumas and songbirds. Popular recreation activities include hiking, camping, backpacking, hunting, fishing, mountain biking and horseback riding.
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Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, Washington, D.C.

Photo: NPS
  • Where: Washington, D.C.
  • What: A historic American house on a 0.34-acre lot in Washington
  • When: Established April 2016; open Wednesday-Sunday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Why: The Sewall-Belmont House is about a 10-minute walk from the U.S. Capitol, and has been home to the National Woman's Party (NWP) since 1929. NWP founder Alice Paul, who helped win the right for women to vote in the U.S., used this house to write new language in 1943 for the Equal Rights Amendment, also known as the "Alice Paul Amendment," and led the fight for its passage in Congress. From this house, Paul and the NWP drafted more than 600 pieces of legislation in support of equal rights during the 20th century, and advocated for women's political, social and economic equality. And the house was already historic even before that, having hosted the only resistance to the British invasion of D.C. during the War of 1812. The British burned it down, but it was rebuilt by 1820.
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Cesar Chavez National Monument, California

Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior
  • Where: Keene, California
  • What: 116-acre former headquarters of the United Farm Workers, and former home of civil rights activist Cesar Chavez
  • When: Established October 2012; open daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m., except for certain holidays
  • Why: Also known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, this place in California's Tehachapi Pass has been designated a national monument as well as a national historic landmark. It's a tribute to the legacy of Cesar Chavez, an influential 20th-century labor leader and social activist who championed the rights of farm workers.
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Waco Mammoth National Monument, Texas

Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior
  • Where: Waco, Texas
  • What: A museum and paleontological site where Columbian mammoths and other Pleistocene mammals have been found
  • When: Established July 2015; open daily from 9 a.m.-5p.m., but closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day
  • Why: In 1978, two young fossil hunters were looking for arrowheads along Texas' Bosque River when they found a large bone eroding out of a ravine. They took it to Baylor University, where staff identified it as the femur of a Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). A team of volunteers quickly returned to excavate the site, which turned out to be a bonanza of Pleistocene fossils. Between 1978 and 1990, the remains of 16 Columbian mammoths were found, apparently a nursery herd that died together in a single natural event. Six more mammoths were found between 1990 to 1997, plus other extinct animals like a Western camel, dwarf antelope and a saber-toothed cat. Many of these fossils remain in situ, or still in their original position within the bone bed. These specimens have been protected in recent years by a climate-controlled dig shelter, allowing for public viewing and further study.
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San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, California

Photo: Daniel Martin/Wikimedia Commons
  • Where: Angeles and San Bernardino national forests, California
  • What: 346,1777 acres of federal land in the San Gabriel Mountains
  • When: Established October 2014
  • Why: Rising up to 10,000 feet between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert, the San Gabriel Mountains provide 70 percent of the open space and 30 percent of the drinking water for 15 million people who live in the Los Angeles Basin. Their diverse landscape spans four wilderness areas, including critical habitat for wildlife such as the California condor, mountain yellow-legged frog, arroyo chub fish and Nelson's bighorn sheep. The monument also protects 53 sensitive plant species and 300 California-endemic plants that only grow in the San Gabriel Range. Other highlights include the famous Mount Wilson Observatory, where Edwin Hubble made historic astronomical discoveries, and more than 600 archaeological sites, which shed light on 8,000 years of human history in the area.
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Browns Canyon National Monument, Colorado

Photo: Bob Wick/BLM
  • Where: Chaffee County, Colorado
  • What: 21,586 acres of canyons, waterways and backcountry forest centered along Colorado's upper Arkansas River Valley
  • When: Established February 2015
  • Why: Browns Canyon ranges from 7,300 to 10,000 feet above sea level, offering scenic views of the Arkansas River Valley and the Sawatch Range. Those mountains, which formed 70 million years ago, are home to some of the highest peaks in the Rockies, towering more than 14,000 feet in elevation. And the Arkansas River is cherished by rafters and anglers alike — it's considered the country's most popular whitewater rafting destination, and has been named a gold medal river by the Colorado Wildlife Commission for its world-class wild trout fishing. Other native wildlife include bighorn sheep, American black bears, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, red foxes, American pine martens and several species of bats.
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Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, Hawaii *

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

* Established by George W. Bush administration; expanded by Obama administration

  • Where: Central Pacific Ocean
  • What: 490,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) of pristine marine ecosystems around seven remote reefs and atolls to the south and west of Hawaii
  • When: Established in January 2009; expanded in September 2014
  • Why: Created by President George W. Bush in 2009, this monument initially covered 82,000 square miles, which was already huge. It was later expanded in 2014 by President Obama, who increased its size by nearly 500 percent. (An even bigger expansion had been planned, but that was scaled back in response to objections from tuna-fishing fleets.) The area has dozens of seamounts, which are known to foster biodiversity, and its small islands host corals, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, birds, insects and plants found nowhere else on Earth. Many threatened, endangered and depleted species thrive there, including green and hawksbill sea turtles, pearl oysters, giant clams, reef sharks, coconut crabs, groupers, humphead and Napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, dolphins and whales.
  • Update: This monument is one of several being targeted by the Trump administration for a size reduction or management changes.
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Sand to Snow National Monument, California

Photo: Bob Wick/BLM
  • Where: San Bernardino County, California
  • What: 154,000 acres, stretching from the Sonoran Desert floor up to 10,000 feet in the San Gorgonio Wilderness
  • When: Established February 2016
  • Why: Rising from the sandy Sonoran Desert floor to the snow-capped, 11,500-foot San Gorgonio Mountain — the tallest peak in Southern California — Sand to Snow National Monument supports an impressive diversity of wildlife. The area includes part of the San Bernardino National Forest and connects with Joshua Tree National Park, linking a mosaic of ecosystems stretching more than 200 miles. The mountains of Sand to Snow frame the northeastern Coachella Valley along with the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument to the south. Home to desert oases at Big Morongo and Whitewater canyons, the area offers sanctuary for desert-dwelling animals and a stopover for migrating birds. The archaeological riches of the Black Lava Buttes and the remains of mining and ranching communities reflect humans' past prosperity and adversity in this dry, rugged landscape.
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Freedom Riders National Monument, Alabama

Photo: National Park Service
  • Where: Anniston, Alabama
  • What: Historic sites totaling about 6 acres in and near Anniston, Alabama
  • When: Established January 2017
  • Why: In 1961, groups of interracial "Freedom Riders" took integrated bus rides through the U.S. South, part of a plan to test if bus stations were complying with U.S. Supreme Court decisions that deemed segregated public buses unconstitutional. On May 14, a bus carrying Freedom Riders arrived in Anniston, Alabama, where it was violently attacked by a segregationist mob that included members of the Ku Klux Klan. The mob threw rocks, broke the bus's windows and slashed its tires before police finally intervened, although a line of cars followed the bus as it left, leading to another attack 6 miles outside town in which the bus was set on fire. Along with other cases of mob violence against Freedom Riders, this brought important public attention to racial segregation in the South and the violence often used to enforce it. On Jan. 12, 2017, President Obama declared 5.96 acres around Anniston as the Freedom Riders National Monument to memorialize these pivotal events in U.S. history.
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Castle Mountains National Monument, California

Photo: White House
  • Where: San Bernardino County, California
  • What: 20,920 acres of mountainous Mojave Desert wilderness
  • When: Established February 2016; always open
  • Why: Nestled between the Nevada line and Mojave National Preserve, the Castle Mountains area boasts Joshua tree forests, unbroken natural terrain, rare desert grasslands and deep human history. It links important water and wildlife corridors, and completes the preserve's boundary along the California-Nevada border. It includes some of the richest Joshua tree forest in the Mojave Desert, as well as pinyon pine and juniper at higher elevations. The desert grassland is a hotspot of botanical diversity, hosting 28 species of native grasses, about half of which are rare. A large groundwater aquifer, Piute Spring, underlies the arid landscape. It's the preserve's only perennial stream and riparian corridor, a major attraction for wildlife as well as humans, who have lived here for thousands of years. With its habitat corridors and large, intact ecosystems, the monument offers unusual opportunities to study wildlife movement and connections, especially in the context of climate change.
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Honouliuli National Monument, Hawaii

Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior
  • Where: Waipahu, Oahu, Hawaii
  • What: Site of World War II internment camp
  • When: Established February 2015; not yet open to the public
  • Why: The Honouliuli Internment Camp was Hawaii's largest and longest-used such camp during WWII. Nearly all of the internees were of Japanese descent, including many leaders in the Japanese-American community. Despite the government's allegations of disloyalty, none of the Japanese-American internees from Hawaii was ever found guilty of sabotage, espionage or overt acts against the United States, and all later received formal apologies and many received redress compensation. Honouliuli closed in 1945 for civilian internees, followed by prisoners of war in 1946, and was soon overgrown with vegetation and forgotten by much of the U.S. public. The monument hasn't opened yet, and will remain closed to the public for several years while the NPS and local stakeholders plan and develop the site. Once open, it will be "a powerful reminder of the need to protect civil liberties in times of conflict," according to the Obama administration, "and the effects of martial law on civil society."
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Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, Massachusetts

Photo: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Where: Northwest Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of New England
  • What: The first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, spanning 4,913 square miles on the edge of Georges Bank
  • When: Established September 2016
  • Why: Located more than 100 miles off Cape Cod, this monument features undersea canyons and seamounts that host fragile ecosystems and rich biodiversity, including important deep-sea corals, endangered whales and sea turtles, other marine mammals and numerous fish. Many previously unknown species have been found here, including 15 kinds of coral recently identified by NOAA's Okeanos Explorer research vessel. Commercial fishing will be banned in the monument, aside from a seven-year phase-out for existing permits of the red crab and the American lobster fisheries. Recreational fishing will be allowed by permit, as will scientific research. While the Pacific has recently enjoyed a surge of marine conservation, this is the first U.S. marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Update: A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit in October 2018 filed by a group of fishing associations who claimed the president didn't have the authority to designate ocean areas as a monument under the Antiquities Act. Judge James Boasberg ruled that the groups failed to explain why the monument was too large and detrimental to the fishing industry.
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California Coastal National Monument, California *

Photo: Bob Wick/BLM

* Established by Clinton administration; expanded by Obama administration

  • Where: 1,100 miles of California coastline
  • What: More than 20,000 rocks and small islands, plus coastal lands including an estuary, sandy beaches, dunes and rocky bluffs
  • When: Established in January 2000; expanded in March 2014 to include the 1,665-acre Point Arena-Stornetta Unit; expanded again in January 2017 to include six additional sites
  • Why: This monument was established by President Bill Clinton in January 2000, featuring more than 20,000 rocks and small islands along the 1,100 mile California coast (and extending 12 nautical miles from the mainland). The Point Arena-Stornetta Unit, which includes 1,665 acres of federal land on the Northern California coast, was added in March 2014 by President Obama. The diverse habitats in this area provide critical refuge for many threatened and endangered species, including the Point Arena mountain beaver, the western snowy plover, Behren's silverspot butterfly and the California red-legged frog. Obama further expanded the monument in January 2017, adding Trinidad Head, Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch, Lost Coast Headlands, Cotoni-Coast Dairies, Piedras Blancas, and Orange County Rocks and Islands.
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Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon and California *

Photo: BLM

* Established by Clinton administration; expanded by Obama administration

  • Where: Southwestern Oregon and Northern California
  • What: More than 100,000 acres of forest and grasslands at the Oregon-California border
  • When: Established in June 2000; expanded in January 2017
  • Why: Cascade-Siskiyou was the first national monument created solely for its biodiversity. Established by President Clinton in 2000, it initially protected about 65,000 acres of ecosystems at the junction of the Cascade Range and the Siskiyou Mountains, including more than 3,500 native species and part of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Since its creation, scientific studies of the area have shown the need for wildlife corridors to aid species migration, dispersal and resilience from threats like wildfires and climate change. So, in January 2017, President Obama heeded local requests to expand the monument, adding 43,000 acres in Oregon as well as 5,000 acres in California. The expansion includes Horseshoe Ranch, the Jenny Creek watershed, the Grizzly Peak area, Lost Lake, the Rogue Valley foothills, the Southern Cascades area, and the area surrounding Surveyor Mountain.
  • Update: This monument is one of several being targeted by the Trump administration for a size reduction or management changes.
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Stonewall National Monument, New York

Photo: National Parks Conservation Association
  • Where: Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan, New York City
  • What: The first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBT rights and history
  • When: Established June 2016; open daily from 9 a.m. to sunset
  • Why: Christopher Park has long been a popular public space in New York City's Greenwich Village. It was created after a large fire destroyed an overcrowded tenement in 1835, and neighborhood residents persuaded the city to condemn the 0.12-acre triangle for public space in 1837. By the 1960s, it had become a popular destination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, many of whom had run away from or been kicked out of their homes. On the morning of June 28, 1969, a riot broke out in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, at the time one of the city's best-known LGBT bars. The Stonewall National Monument now protects the area where this uprising helped spark the modern LGBT civil rights movement in the United States.
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Pullman National Monument, Illinois

Photo: anokarina/Flickr
  • Where: Pullman, Chicago
  • What: A quarter-acre site commemorating the former Pullman factory town
  • When: Established February 2015; open Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
  • Why: Built in the 1880s by the Pullman Company, the factory town of Pullman was designed to manufacture railroad passenger cars and to house workers and their families. It's famed for its urban architecture — and for its embodiment of changes in American society. While industrialist George Mortimer Pullman meant the town to be a utopia, the tight control he exercised over workers helped spark one of the biggest, most consequential labor strikes in U.S. history. According to the Obama administration, the remaining structures "are an evocative testament to the evolution of American industry, the rise of unions and the labor movement, the lasting strength of good urban design, and the remarkable journey of the Pullman porters toward the civil rights movement of the 20th century."
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Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, Ohio

Photo: Nyttend/Wikimedia Commons
  • Where: Wilberforce, Ohio
  • What: The former home of soldier, diplomat and civil rights leader Charles Young
  • When: Established March 2013. Currently being developed for regular public visitation, it's open to the public only on select days. You can find open house dates here.
  • Why: Born in 1864 to former slaves, Charles Young attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point — where he was just the third African-American cadet to graduate and become an Army officer. He led the legendary Buffalo Soldiers during a 37-year military career, serving assignments in the U.S. and abroad. He was also the first black man to receive the rank of colonel, and even served as superintendent of Sequoia National Park 13 years before the National Park Service was formed. The NPS now protects his home as a national monument.
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Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Hawaii *

Photo: NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

* Established by George W. Bush administration; expanded by Obama administration

  • Where: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
  • What: 582,578 square miles of marine habitat, centered around 10 islands and atolls
  • When: Established June 2006; expanded August 2016
  • Why: Created by President George W. Bush in 2006, Papahanaumokuakea was the largest marine sanctuary on Earth at the time. But as ocean conservation grew more popular over the next decade, it slipped to 10th-largest. President Obama quadrupled its size in 2016, turning it into Earth's second-largest protected area of any kind. It provides critical habitat for more than 7,000 species of wildlife, including several endangered animals — such as Hawaiian monk seals, Laysan ducks and sea turtles — as well as the longest-living marine species on Earth, black coral, which can live for 4,500 years. Protecting this much marine habitat also provides a buffer against ocean acidification, boosting the resilience of many species by giving them more space to adapt. Commercial fishing and mining are banned, although the monument still allows some recreational fishing, as well as removal of wildlife for Native Hawaiian cultural practices. The area has deep cultural and historical significance, as much of the surrounding land and water is sacred to Native Hawaiian communities.