Our Treasure, Our Future – Sonoran Desert National Monument

National Monuments Review Sample Comment Scripts for the Savvy Citizen.

 Protect Sonoran Desert National Monument

ACTION ALERT: public comment period open for Interior Department’s National Monuments Review–Submit Comments for Bears Ears before May 26, 2017; all others before July 10, 2017. Click here to submit:  Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996

The following is a sample comment submission. Please do not cut and paste!  Edit the script to make it your own and add personal commentary.  These scripts are designed to inform and are for inspiration and ideas! For ideas on how to write a strong submission, click here: “Suggested Outline or “Hot Topic” Review List for Comments.” 

 Protect Sonoran Desert National Monument – Sample Script for Tuesday, May 16, 2017:

I oppose all changes to the boundaries and protections in place for the Sonoran Desert National Monument.  I support, rather, increased protections for this national treasure, within which I have had the privilege of hiking with friends, family, and students.

The Sonoran Desert National Monument meets the requirements and original objectives of the Antiquities Act, including the Act’s requirement that reservations of land not exceed “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected”:

  • The Sonoran desert ecosystem is unique to North America, and is the most biologically diverse desert of the Americas.  The monument encompasses only 0.6% of the Sonoran desert ecosystem.
  • The monument includes important biological and archeological assets, many unique to this ecosystem.
  • The entire Sonoran ecosystem is threatened—and significant portions eliminated—by human activities, making protections afforded to this tiny portion of that ecosystem all the more crucial.

The Sonoran Desert ecosystem suffers from multiple human-caused threats; several cross into the boundaries of the monument.

  • Urban sprawl, infrastructure encroachment, and water diversion: “Ortolano (1984) has summarized some of the negative environmental effects of residential and commercial development…evident in the urbanization occurring in the Sonoran desert region. In the north Phoenix metropolitan areas three impacts are especially pronounced: the loss of native plant and animal species, the disruption of the natural wash drainage system, and the decline of visual quality (1).”
  • Air pollution from nearby urban areas.
  • Invasive species introductions: “One consequence of proliferating invasive plants [in the monument] is an increased fuel load…with the potential to carry fire among fire-sensitive trees, shrubs, and cacti…the occurrence of ire in ecosystems that evolved in its absence can lead to loss of species and restructuring of plant and animal interactions, even favoring fire-adapted exotic species over natives (2).”
  • Damage from cattle-grazing, resulting in loss of native vegetation and erosion.
  • Drought and other climate-change threats: “Water Woes: How Dams, Diversions, Dirty Water and Drought Put America’s Wildlife at Risk … names the Sonoran Desert as one of the regions most threatened by water shortage, and identifies the Sonoran pronghorn as one of the 10 species at greatest risk of extinction due to declining water supplies (3).”

Among the assets of this monument deserving preservation and protection:

  • Twenty-three threatened or endangered animals and plants, among them the Mexican gray wolf, the American jaguar, the pygmy owl, the Gila chub, the southern willow flycatcher, the Sonoran pronghorn, the desert-nesting bald eagle, two species of cactus and Kearney’s blue star.  Habitat loss is the main threat to these species.
  • The iconic saguaro cactus, found nowhere other than the Sonoran desert, and an additional 100 reptile species, 60 mammal species, 350 bird species, and 2000 plant species.
  • A number of historical and archeological assets within the monument, including rock art and portions of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail: This congressionally designated trail parallels the Butterfield Overland Stage Route, the Mormon Battalion Trail, and the Gila Trail.
  • Intact Sonoran desert ecosystems prevent erosion (including wind erosion and resulting particulate matter than contributes to poor air quality in surrounding populated areas)(4).

Some mixed-use is compatible with protection of the Sonoran desert ecosystem; other uses are not:

  • Mining (and its accompanying auxiliary infrastructures, such as roads) and off-road vehicle use are highly destructive of this ecosystem.  Those uses are NOT compatible with the aims of the Antiquities Act, nor the Proclamation establishing Sonoran Desert National Monument.
  • “When President Clinton established the Sonoran Desert National Monument in 2001, theproclamation was explicit about how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) should manage livestock: parts of the monument would be permanently closed to livestock, and grazing should be permitted in the remaining areas unless the agency could demonstrate that grazing was compatible with resource protection (5).”
  • The Proclamation establishing the monument “noted in particular the rich diversity, density, and distribution of plants in the Sand Tank Mountains on the Monument, which is due to the management regime in place in that area that has excluded livestock grazing for more than fifty years (6).”

The two common calls for reduced protection and expanded public uses in Sonoran Desert National Monument regard allowing off-road vehicle recreation in the monument and opening additional areas to grazing.  Both are incompatible with protecting this national asset:

  • More, rather than less protection and enforcement are needed: “…while Clinton’s Proclamation prohibited all mechanized vehicles from straying from the monument’s roads, many off-roaders have ignored the law and forged through desert habitat with motorcycles, jeeps, and all-terrain vehicles. Off-road traffic has contributed to erosion and disturbed both plant and animal populations (Center for Biological Diversity) (7).”
  • As studies commissioned by the BLM reported, cattle grazing is incompatible with the Sonoran desert ecosystem (8), and grazing strategies developed for areas with higher vegetation productivity are not appropriate for this ecosystem (9).
  • Grazing fees are not an economic benefit to the American taxpayer.  “Appropriations for the BLM and USFS grazing programs have exceeded grazing receipts by at least $120 million annually since 2002 (10),” and the gap is widening.

SOURCES:

  1. https://www.ag.arizona.edu/OALS/urbanization/evaluating.html
  2. http://www.desertmuseum.org/programs/invasive_Desert.html
  3. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2012/sonoran-pronghorn-11-14-2012.html
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2872343/
  5. https://www.westernwatersheds.org/offices/arizona/current-arizona-projects/arizonasonoran-desert-national-monument/
  6. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwzwdJo0zxv5bHlENlNCMnNBd3M/edit
  7. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/deserts/sonoran_desert/Sonoran_Desert_National_Monument.html
  8. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwzwdJo0zxv5RVA4MU5sSVFyaHc/edit
  9. http://azconservation.org/dl/TNCAZ_Grazing_Sonoran_Desert_Impacts.pdf
  10. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/grazing/pdfs/CostsAndConsequences_01-2015.pdf

Photo: BLM Winter Bucket List #27: Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona, for Day Hikes Among the Saguaro.  March, 2014. Public Domain.

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