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Presidential Memorandum: Public Lands Need to Be Inclusive

President Obama has protected three new national monuments. He designated the San Juan Islands National Monument in 2013. (Jennifer McNew/BLM)
President Obama has protected three new national monuments. He designated the San Juan Islands National Monument in 2013. (Jennifer McNew/BLM)
January 13, 2017

SEATTLE - President Obama on Thursday released an historic memorandum calling on public-lands agencies to be more inclusive of America's increasingly diverse population. He also designated three new national monuments and expanded two others.

Part of the president's vision of more inclusive national parks and lands across the country, the memorandum advised agencies to make parks more accessible to Americans of all colors and creeds. Maite Arce, president and chief executive of the Hispanic Access Foundation, said her group is working to make all Americans feel welcome on lands owned by the public.

"We continue to build on President Obama's legacy," Arce said, "to ensure that the public-lands protection is strengthened, the stewards of these lands are reflecting the diversity of our nation, and all Americans can feel a sense of ownership and pride in their contribution for generations to come."

Under the Antiquities Act, Obama expanded national monuments in California and Oregon and named three civil rights-era monuments in the South.

Carolyn Finney, author of "Black Faces, White Spaces" and a member of the National Park System Advisory Board, said Obama perhaps is the first president to talk explicitly about diversity in regard to public lands, and this memorandum shows his commitment to it.

"The Presidential Memorandum for me," she said, "is, you've got the highest office in the land actually saying, 'Look, we think this is really important, so we're going to put this out there so that, when the agencies need something to refer to, they can see that this is serious.' "

It remains unclear what will happen to Obama's legacy on public lands once he leaves office. His use of the Antiquities Act, which he used to name San Juan Islands National Monument in 2013, has been opposed by Interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke in the past. Arce said her group is part of a coalition dedicated to making 'the next 100 years' in national parks a reflection of America's diversity.

"Even with President Obama's amazing work and his legacy, there's so much more work to be done," she said, "and the new administration will absolutely be hearing from The Next 100 partners to ensure that we move forward."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA