President Obama will designate five national monuments Monday including one commemorating Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in Maryland, according to several environmental groups.
The other four are the First State National Monument in Delaware and Pennsylvania; New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte National Monument; San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington state; and Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio.
The Dayton Daily News first reported the designations late Thursday night; sources familiar with Obama plans asked not to be identified because the announcement was not yet public.
Officials at the White House and Interior Department could not be reached for comment.
During his first term Obama rarely invoked the Antiquities Act, which gives him the authority to protect federal lands without congressional approval. House Republicans threatened to repeal the Act altogether after an internal Interior Department list of possible monument designations became public, and Obama confined his four national monument designations to areas of cultural or historical significance such as Chimney Rock in Colorado.
By contrast, two of the designations for Monday — the San Juan Islands and the Rio Grande del Norte area — are ecologically valuable.
In all five cases, the local communities support additional federal protections. Many of Maryland's top elected officials -- including Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and both Democratic Sens. Barbara A. Milkulski and Benjamin L. Cardin -- had lobbied the president to establish a national monument on the Eastern Shore honoring Tubman's work to free slaves in the 1800s.
Environmentalists praised the president's move, noting last Congress was the first since 1966 too fail to designate a single piece of wilderness.
“President Obama has taken an important step in protecting America’s outdoor heritage and honoring our nation’s history,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation. “These designations came in response to locally driven efforts and we are grateful for President Obama’s leadership in advancing conservation at a time when it’s desperately needed.”