Oh, joy: Obama creates five new new national monuments

Now, you might be tempted to wonder: Who could possibly find a reason to raise a partisan uproar over this?

Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad for escaping slaves. Charles Young and the Buffalo Soldiers. The Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico. The San Juan Islands off Washington State. The state of Delaware.

These are the places and people honored with new national monuments created Monday by President Obama.

“These sites honor the pioneering heroes, spectacular landscapes and rich history that have shaped our extraordinary country,” Obama said in a statement. “By designating these national monuments today, we will ensure they will continue to inspire and be enjoyed by generations of Americans to come.”

‘Cause hey, everybody likes historical monuments and beautiful parks, and it’s not like any individual one costs a ton of money, relatively speaking. Sounds pretty innocuous, right?

The hell it is. For anyone who actually cares about the state of our natural landscapes and isn’t just trying to find excuses to expand the bureaucracy’s reach, the federal government is a notoriously poor steward of the full one-third of United States’ surface area it already owns, and there are mechanisms in place through which they can keep acquiring more without actually finding a way to pay for it all. Hint: Effective conservation ain’t free, and deferred maintenance, poor management, lack of funds, and wildly deficient and highly political land-use policies (with often disastrous accompanying unintended consequences) are all hallmarks of the federal government’s oversight.

The federal government needs to start shedding deeds, not acquiring more of them; if these areas’ new designations are so very valuable for local economies, why not let states and localities make their own parks and monuments? Why not sell them to private companies, in trust, to run at a private-sector profit? There are real and excellent alternatives to federal management, and as seductive as it is to blindly believe that federal oversight is the best way to protect natural resources, the waste, abuse, and inefficiency that run rampant in their rest of their operations are just as prevalent in their management of the great outdoors. It’s not that these parks and/or monuments don’t merit preservation — they definitely do — but the federal government isn’t always the best man for the job.

What’s more, the president is going about this in his typical non-transparent and cost-obfuscating fashion. Perfect.

Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington State Republican, said the expansion of the national parks makes no sense – especially considering Mr. Obama’s decision to close the White House doors to public tours because of recent sequester budget cuts.

“President Obama has closed the White House to public tours but he’s unilaterally ordering the National Park Service to spend scarce dollars on little-known, privately owned property in Delaware,” Mr. Hastings said. …

“Especially troubling are the inclusion of private property in these new monuments and the lack of transparency that surrounds monument designations where the White House and president work in secret and are able to thwart public review, public comment and consideration of environmental and economic impacts,” Mr. Hastings said.

Mr. Obama will use the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate the national monuments. Sixteen presidents have used the law — from Theodore Roosevelt to Mr. Obama — to protect natural, historical and cultural areas such as the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty, but recent Republican Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon have preferred to allow Congress to make those designations.

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