President Obama creates five new national monuments

President Obama creates five new national monuments
The Rio Grande flows through the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico.
(Bob Wick / U.S. Bureau of Land Management)

President Obama on Monday established five new national monuments, including one in Washington’s San Juan Islands and one in northern New Mexico.

The Río Grande del Norte National Monument elevates protections for 242,550 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management holdings northwest of Taos. A variety of wildlife, 500-year-old trees and extinct volcanoes are found in the monument, which lies between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges.

The monument includes parts of the 800-foot-deep Rio Grande Gorge, carved by the river as it flows across highlands that feature petroglyphs and archaeological sites.

The San Juan Islands, an archipelago of more than 450 islands, rocks and pinnacles in Washington’s Puget Sound, are a popular recreational destination, known for kayaking and wildlife viewing.


Orca whales, seals and porpoises swim past a rugged landscape of forest and grasslands that provide habitat for black-tail deer, river otter and mink. The area’s bird life includes bald eagles and threatened seabirds called marbled murrelets.

The monument covers only a small portion of the San Juan complex: about 1,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management property that dot the chain.

The other monuments named Monday are in the East: the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, the First State National Monument in Delaware and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland.

The Obama administration has been criticized for not doing more to protect unique public lands from energy and other types of resource development.


In a speech earlier this year, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt noted that the amount of federal land designated as wilderness or as a national monument during Obama’s first term was far less than under several of his recent predecessors.

New wilderness areas must be approved by Congress. But presidents can act on their own to create monuments under the Antiquities Act. The designation generally bars or limits resource development while stopping short of national park protections.

Get our weekly Health and Science newsletter