Natural Landmarks: True Conservation Or DOI Greenwashing?

Hanging Lake is one of the sites recently designated by the DOI as a natural landmark.

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has designated six new natural landmarks as part of the agency’s “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.” The following six sites have joined the more than 500 places already designated under the National Natural Landmarks Program:

Barfoot Park. Located in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona, this site is known for its unique plant and animals species, as well as for its meadows and springs. The site comprises 680 acres of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Morrison-Golden Fossil Areas. This newly designated landmark, located west and north of Golden, Colo., is one of the most important paleontological sites in the western U.S., and is known around the world for its abundance of reptile, mammal and bird fossils.

Hanging Lake. Located east of Glenwood Springs, Colo., this 72-acre site represents a rare wetland ecosystem within the White River National Forest and includes natural wonders such as hanging gardens.

The Island. Situated on an isolated plateau at the intersection of the Deschutes and Crooked rivers in Oregon, this is one of the best preserved examples of native juniper savannah. The site is a Designated Research Natural Area and is managed by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service.

Round Top Butte. This Oregon landmark includes flat, volcanic plains, and is home to over 700 acres of native bunchgrasses, making it a unique habitat. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), it also includes a preserve run by the Nature Conservancy.

Kahlotus Ridgetop. This site represents the remains of the Palouse Prairie, which the DOI says is the most endangered and altered landscape in the inland Pacific Northwest. Only about 1% of the original prairie remains.

Kahlotus Ridgetop

A passive approach

Federal recognition of new landmarks is a start, but it is far from what these natural landmarks deserve. The National Park Service’s (NPS) National Natural Landmarks Program encourages conservation, but it does not impose any new land-use restrictions on the sites.

The NPS says the goals of the program are to “encourage the preservation of sites illustrating the geological and ecological character of the United States, enhance the scientific and educational value of sites thus preserved, strengthen public appreciation of natural history, and foster a greater concern for the conservation of the nation’s natural heritage.”

Pretty passive approach, if you ask me. Without any real federal protections for these landmarks, the designation can be rendered useless – essentially the product of a lame image-building campaign from the federal government.

The National Natural Landmarks Program is hardly a PR stint unique to the Obama administration; the program was founded in 1962. Yet the DOI’s “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative” – which actually encourages hunting and fishing under the mantra of conservation – raises my suspicions.

If the U.S. is truly serious about conservation, it needs to start taking a stronger stance on preservation and stop greenwashing the American public.

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