Preserving Our Public Lands

Preserving Our Public Lands

Public lands are our nation’s greatest natural treasures. Preserving public lands and waters protects precious history and the livelihoods of so many, especially Indigenous communities. But unfortunately, industries like Big Oil have long exploited US public lands for their own profit. Not only has this disrupted local communities and wildlife, it has contributed to the climate crisis. In fact a quarter of US  greenhouse gas emissions have been generated from oil and gas drilling on our public lands and waters.

That’s why Friends of the Earth has joined conservation and Indigenous rights groups to advocate for the protection of areas like the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon, Avi Kwa Ame, and Castner Range National Monuments. Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, or Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon, provides water to at least 40 million people. And the monument is home to over 3,000 cultural and historic resources. The Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition led efforts to protect the moment for decades. We joined them, calling on our members to sign a petition urging the Bureau of Land Management to designate Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni. And 57,155 Friends of the Earth members spoke up about this important monument. Finally, in August 2023, those demands were met. President Biden announced that Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni would become a national monument and become permanently protected from extractive industry projects!

Similar to Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, Nevada’s Avi Kwa Ame area is considered sacred for numerous Indigenous tribes. Avi Kwa Ame is also home to Nevada’s largest tree, the Joshua Tree, and many other native species, like the desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and Gila monsters. These are just a few reasons why we joined Native American tribes, conservation organizations, and recreation groups to call for Awi Kwa Ame’s designation. Over 133,400 FOE members petitioned as well, noting the need to protect a sacred Native American landscape and local wildlife.

Thankfully, on March 21, 2023, President Biden announced that the area the monument was designated! In that same announcement, he designated Castner Range near El Paso, Texas a national monument. Over 23,000 FOE members got involved in this campaign because, not only does the area have cultural and historical significance , the now-monument honors our veterans, as a former training site during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  President Biden’s announcement declared that altogether, half a million acres of Texas and Nevada were protected! This is huge in our fight against energy extraction.

We’re glad to see President Biden hear the demands made by so many and establish these designations. But there’s still work to do to protect America’s pristine lands and waters. For example, Northern Chumash Tribal Council has been advocating for Chumash Heritage Sanctuary to become protected as a national marine sanctuary. This marked the first time a Tribal organization has nominated a national marine sanctuary designation in the U.S. What’s more, the protection of the sanctuary would be critical in protecting the San Luis Obispo Bay’s marine biodiversity and to prevent oil and gas extraction in the area. When we join forces with Indigenous groups, conservation organizations, and other activists who care about the preservation of America’s public lands team up, we’ll be sure to secure another victory!