President Barack Obama designated five new national monuments on Monday, using his executive authority to put historic sites and wild landscapes off limits to development.
The sites are Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico, First State National Monument in Delaware, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland, Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio and San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington state.
"These sites honor the pioneering heroes, spectacular landscapes and rich history that have shaped our extraordinary country," Obama said in a statement. "By designating these national monuments today, we will ensure they will continue to inspire and be enjoyed by generations of Americans to come."
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., questioned why the president would extend public lands protection at a time when the federal government is undergoing automatic cuts known as the sequester.
Conservation Fund president Lawrence Selzer, whose group donated land to help create the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument and Delaware's First State National Monument, said nearly half of the nation's national parks started out as national monument designations. In the case of Delaware, the state's Mount Cuba Center gave $20 million to the Conservation Fund so that it could buy the 1,100-acre Woodlawn property in Delaware and Pennsylvania and donate it to the National Park Service.
"This is by no means unusual," Selzer said. "The fact that the president is stepping forward and using his authority is a reflection of the support at the local level."