18 Jan More National Monuments, but a Spreading “Inside Epidemic”
President Barack Obama will leave the highest office in the nation with a noteworthy environmental accomplishment: acting under the Antiquities Act of 1906, he established or expanded 29 national monuments, which protect 553 million acres of federal lands and waters. That’s more than any other president in history.
Some of his most recent designations include the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, 87,000 acres of federal land along the Penobscot River in north-central Maine; the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah; and Gold Butte National Monument, 300,000 acres in southwest Nevada.
Those of us who love the outdoors now have even more space for adventures. Unfortunately, that fact is ironic, because according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, American adults spend 93 percent of their lives indoors. For children, it’s even worse: half of the children worldwide are outside less than an hour a day.
To put that in context, inmates at U.S. maximum security prisons are guaranteed at least two hours per day of outdoor time.
The making of monuments
Environmental writer and novelist Wallace Stegner once wrote about the Southwestern landscape that the new Bears Ears National Monument protects: it could “fill up the eye and overflow the soul.”
Named for twin buttes that poke above the horizon, Bears Ears is more than 12,000-foot-high mountain peaks; wind-sculpted, red-rock formations; bushy, pinyon-juniper mesas; and secluded sandstone canyons. It preserves one of the most significant archaeological areas in the United States, with more than 100,000 Native American cultural sites that hold prehistoric dwellings and pictographs.
In previous decades, those precious places have been threatened by looting. For example, in 2009, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and FBI charged 24 defendants with illegally obtaining relics that included “decorated Anasazi pottery, an assortment of burial and ceremonial masks, a buffalo headdress and ancient sandals known to be associated with Native American burials.” And in early 2016, Friends of Cedar Mesa, which conducts volunteer patrols and reports damage and suspicious activity to the BLM, tracked seven, major incidents of looting in the Bears Ears area. One volunteer came across a rock-art panel of a humanlike figure that a thief with a saw had tried to nab from a cliff.
The Gold Butte National Monument, located northeast of Las Vegas, will now conserve desert wildlife, such as endangered bighorn sheep and desert tortoises; ancient petroglyphs; twisting canyons; mining ghost towns and panoramic vistas of the Mojave Desert.
Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to use the Antiquities Act, when he set aside Devils Tower in Wyoming in 1906. Since that time, he and his successors have designated more than 150 national monuments.
Two years later, in 1908, President Roosevelt protected more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon. At the time, development threatened to overrun the area. Roosevelt said, “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”
The inconvenience of indoor living
But will our children, and our children’s children, ever see it? They won’t if they—and their parents—continue to live most of their lives indoors.
According to a landmark survey conducted in 1994 by the EPA, the average American spends 93 percent of his or her life indoors: 87 percent is spent in enclosed buildings and about 6 percent in enclosed vehicles. That means that most of us spend approximately only 7 percent of our entire lives outdoors, or only one-and-a-half hours per day.
As bad as that is for adults, a 2016 study found something even more alarming regarding children. They are missing out on adventurous, outdoor play. In March 2016, Edelman Berland, an independent market research and analytics firm, conducted a survey of 12,000 parents in 10 countries: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Portugal, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam. The results showed that 74 percent of children age five to 12 spend less than 60 minutes a day playing outdoors, while 18 percent never play outside at all.
Inmates at maximum security prisons in the U.S. are guaranteed two hours of outside time per day.
That’s a stunning comparison, meant to get attention. It should.
I hope now that our brand-new national monuments are garnering some headlines, we’ll all be inspired—no matter where we live—to get outside more.
And let’s take our children, and our children’s children, with us.
Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,