CASA GRANDE — Two of Pinal County’s national monuments could lose their federal government protected status.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order asking for the review of 24 national monuments. The review applies to monuments that total more than 100,000 acres of public land protected since 1996, with the intention of freeing up some of that land for energy development.
The review includes two local monuments, Ironwood Forest National Monument and Sonoran Desert National Monument, which are partially in Pinal County.
Ironwood was designated as a conservation effort designed to preserve a variety of unique animal and plant species found in the Sonoran Desert, such as the monument’s namesake ironwood tree.
Set aside by President Bill Clinton in 2000, the region is located just north of the Tucson Basin and features three historical sites: the Mission of Santa Ana del Chiquiburitac, Los Robles Archeological District and Cocoraque Butte Archeological District.
“Ironwood is a particularly special piece of the Sonoran Desert,” said Tom Hannagan, board president of the Friends of Ironwood Forest, a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding conservation efforts at the park.
With over a thousand members, the organization works with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to supplement some of the preservation efforts within the park — a role that Hannagan stresses has grown increasingly important as the Interior Department faces budget cuts.
Similarly, the Sonoran Desert National Monument, also established under Clinton, is home to a wide range of plants and animals. The monument aims to preserve several cultural and historical sites and artifacts, including Native American relics. It is located near Interstate 8 between Casa Grande and Gila Bend.
Together the two monuments total 625,400 acres of public land dedicated to national monuments.
Under the American Antiquities Act, passed in 1906, the president has the power to designate land as protected to preserve historical, cultural or endangered sites. Trump’s executive order now puts public land designated within the past 21 years at risk of losing that status.
Whether the president can rescind a region’s protection status remains unclear. However, both parks may see some of their territory cut if reviews lead to the redrawing of borders.
One area within the area in question is Pinal County’s Palo Verde Regional Park. The planned park, approved in December 2016, would be designed to provide visitors with easy access to the Sonoran Desert Monument.
However, according to Kent Taylor, the director of Pinal County Open Space and Trails, any changes to the monument would have little to no effect on the new park.
“Our park plans didn’t take (the national monument) into account,” he said. “If something were to change, the underlying ownership (of the monument) would still be BLM.”
Although reviews are still in their early phases, with the order giving Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke 120 days to complete the report, many conservation activists were not surprised by the announcement. Hannagan said congressional members of the Republican Party have been taking aim at the American Antiquities Act for years.
Organizations supporting national monuments, such as the Friends of Ironwood Forest, plan to fight back against the order by reminding both members of Congress and the public of the cultural and natural significance of these lands.
According to Hannagan, if the president were to repeal the status of these parks, it would be a “reversal to the 19th century.”