On a recent visit to the Monterey Bay Area, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar voiced his support for making Fort Ord lands a National Monument. KAZU’s Krista Almanzan reports on what monument status would mean and what’s next.
There’s a distinction to be made when talking about designating Fort Ord a National Monument. It’s a plan that does not include all of the former Army base. The proposal focuses on two areas of open space: the public lands currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management and acres still being cleaned up by the Army. Together these 15,000 acres are being targeted for National Monument status.
One organization advocating for the designation is FORT Friends, an umbrella organization for several groups with interest in Fort Ord, including horseback riders, mountain bikers, and veterans. Henrietta Stern is the President of FORT Friends. “Presently if some minerals were discovered on Fort Ord, there could be mining claims. In the future some of these lands could be sold off, there could be extracted uses,” said Stern. She’s referring to the BLM’s practice of leasing out the mineral rights underneath some federal land to private companies. “Companies come in, and actually extract the resources and sell it, and they pay the American people a royalty to do that. And so all BLM lands are essentially available for that unless they are specifically withdrawn,” said Erin Curtis, BLM Public Affairs Specialist.
The current management plan for Fort Ord protects the land from leasing, but that plan is reassessed about every 15 years. Curtis says she doesn’t know exactly what would happen if the Fort Ord lands became a National Monument, but in the past such a designation provided permanent protection. “Most of the time when lands are designated for these kinds of purposes, conservation purposes, they would be withdrawn from those regulations. They would no longer be available for potential leasing,” said Curtis.
Congressman Sam Farr says it’s a level of protection that would fit the needs of the area. “What we want is the highest category of protection that would allow us to still have events like the Sea Otter Classic, allow people to horseback ride, and ride bicycles and once in a while get in with a motorized vehicle to do clean-up or unexploded ordinance work,” said Congressman Farr. And as it turns out it’s a level of protection that doesn’t have to go through Congress. It can happen with a Presidential Declaration. Nearly every president since Roosevelt has created a National Monument. And right now, Congressman Farr says that’s what he’ll be working toward. “Of all the things that are doable right now, this seems possible, very possible,” said Congressman Farr.
The FORT Friends’ groups are organizing letter writing campaigns, and Henrietta Stern is headed to Washington DC to advocate for the designation. “As far as I’m concerned this is a no brainer. There is extensive community support. It’s a wonderful area,” said Stern. She says creating a Fort Ord National Monument is a way to address the habitat value of the land, recreation value and honor its military legacy.