NOTE: This commentary originally appeared in the Charleston Post & Courier.

BY JOHN TYNAN

This July marked the 111th anniversary of the Antiquities Act – a bedrock tool for the long-term protection of America’s federal lands. Since its authorization, the Antiquities Act has allowed 16 presidents – eight Democrats and eight Republicans – to establish or expand over 150 protected sites across the country for the benefit of all Americans.

This August, however, the Department of the Interior concluded an unprecedented “review” of a number of Antiquities Act protected sites. Interior recommended shrinking protections for a number of these special places, but since they refuse to release their recommendations, the public lands that would be affected are still unknown.
We should not sell out the American people by removing these protections.

For some, federal protection of iconic places brings to mind images of Teddy Roosevelt and others signing documents with vast scenic vistas behind them, offering speeches about the legacy these protections will ensure endure for generations.

But for me, the sites protected under the Antiquities Act are more than just a conservation legacy – they tell the story my family.

My wife and I met at Furman University, but it was summer working together on St. Johns in the U.S. Virgin Islands — part national park and part national monument, which became federally protected in 2001 by President Clinton — that we truly fell in love.

The sites protected by the #AntiquitiesAct are more than a conservation legacy, they tell the story of our values. Click To Tweet

We still enjoy sharing fond tales of listening to music in abandoned sugar mills, crossing paths with wild donkeys, swimming with sea turtles, and snorkeling after dark with sharks. As we sailed and adventured that summer, we knew that we had many more adventures in store.

So it was, a few years later, that I found myself proposing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, another treasured site protected under the Antiquities Act by President Teddy Roosevelt. I’ll never forget the joy of watching the sun set over that breathtaking landscape with my soon-to-be bride. It was a fitting start to our new life together.

In 2010 my wife and I visited Arches National Parks, which started as an Antiquities Act designated site in 1929 by President Hoover. We took a picture on that trip of our sandaled feet overlooking a canyon landscape. What we love most about this picture is what isn’t there: the two little feet that just a few months later would bring new delight to our world.

There are other memories, too: visiting the Statue of Liberty in New York, protected in 1924 by President Coolidge, and sharing the history and significance with my son. Taking in the beauty of Congaree National Park – first protected by Congress in 1976 — with my daughter, and watching her fall in love with South Carolina.

None of these memories could have happened without the Antiquities Act. I know this is true for so many Americans.
These cherished places are sacred. They will forever be a part of my story. It is because of my memories and your memories that I’m driven to protect our federally protected public lands.

I shared my stories of the importance of these places with the Department of Interior and asked them to maintain the protections and boundaries of all similar sites. Unfortunately, they have ignored my request, as well as the requests of the 2.8 million other Americans who voiced their opposition to changing the designations of the sites under review.

Thankfully, these recommendations have not yet been implemented. There’s still a chance to protect our federal public lands. But we have to act soon, before it’s too late.

These cherished places are sacred. They will forever be a part of my story. We need to speak up! Click To Tweet

If these critical protections are rolled back, national treasures will be forever lost. It would be heartbreaking to see that happen on our watch.

I will continue to share my stories and fight alongside other conservation voters to make sure our families and yours can make new memories at these wonderful, prized locations.

I hope you’ll consider joining me in taking action by contacting your state and federal leaders. Tell them how much these unique and special places mean to you. Share your stories. Share your passion. Together, we can make a difference for our public lands.

John Tynan is the Executive Director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, which works to protect air, land, and water through bipartisan and pragmatic political action.

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