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Trump to Order Review of More Than 50 National Monuments

The word is that on Wednesday (April 26, 2017), President Trump will order a “review” of more than 50 National Monument designations covering more than a billion (yes, with a B) acres of public lands. Trump will do this via an Executive Order that directs the Department of the Interior to examine every national monument designation since 1996. This “review” is ostensibly meant to determine if the size and extent of the designations are justifiable within the boundaries of the 1906 Antiquities Act. Of course the results of this “review” are pre-determined. It will conclude that there are too many monuments, that they are too large and that the Antiquities Act has been mis-used.

review national monuments
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

To be sure, Trump’s flurry of poorly thought out Executive Orders (by the end of the week he will have signed 32 EOs, the most in the first 100 days of any President since WWII) is an attempt to fool and placate his most rabid followers and get them thinking that he is actually having some accomplishments.

These steps are not evidence of a government working productively. They are the kinds of steps that ought to have been taken two years ago by the president when he started his campaign. […] Trump has the vague idea that there are laws that are making life too hard for veterans, and fossil-fuel operators, and people in small towns, but he has no idea what those laws are. His “executive orders” are actually just using the government to start the process of designing his campaign platform for him.

The order will not result in a change to our national monuments in the short term. That said, this move is a first step towards harming our national monuments. This is the first step in taking what belongs to all Americans and turning them over to private interests.

protect national monuments
Bears Ears National Monument, Utah. Photo by Tim Peterson.

Keep in mind; Republicans really don’t understand what National Monuments are, how they are created and how they function. At least they pretend that they don’t.  So, quick review:

The Antiquities Act of 1906 allows presidents to create national monuments in order to protect significant cultural and natural heritage. Almost every president since 1906 has used this law and about half of our national parks were initially protected as national monuments.

Some dislike the law because presidents have tended to use it late in their terms to sidestep opposition to their designations. But would anyone today seriously question the wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt’s using the act to protect what is today the core of Olympic National Park in Washington two days before he stepped down in 1909? Or Herbert Hoover’s safeguarding what are now three national parks, including Death Valley in California (1.3 million visitors last year), in his last three weeks in office in 1933? Or Dwight D. Eisenhower’s setting aside what is now the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (five million visitors last year) two days before John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961

Because these presidential actions change the status quo and prevent development, they have sometimes incited local opposition. But over time, the growing popularity of these places often led Congress to recast them as full-fledged national parks.

The Republican Party platform actually calls for turning over all public lands to the states and Republicans have been on a tear to get rid of public lands for years. As I wrote in a recent article for Sierra Magazine:

Right now, the battle for control over public lands is fraught at every level. Earlier this month, Rob Bishop (R, Utah) introduced a $50 million plan to push state takeover of public lands. A recent report produced by the Center for Biological Diversity identified 132 bills in the last five years that were introduced at the federal level, seeking to reduce nationwide control over public lands. The primary sponsors of those bills—nine House lawmakers and six senators—were all from western states.

Recently, several western state legislatures have seen bills introduced that would authorize takeovers of publicly owned, federally managed lands. Since 2013, the Wyoming state legislature has debated nine different bills proposing the transfer of lands to state or private hands. In Utah, congressional representatives have pushed a $14 million lawsuit to force a transfer of public lands to the state. In February, Utah representative Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill in Congress to begin the disposal of lands including the new Bears Ears National Monument, though he later withdrew the bill under immense public pressure.

Yellowstone. Not a national monument but this national park is one of our most treasured public landscapes

Utah’s congressional delegation is among the act’s loudest critics. Yet at the same time that Representative Bishop calls it “the most evil act ever invented,” the state of Utah’s Office of Tourism is spending millions of dollars promoting Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks, boasting that they “draw several million visitors from around the world each year.” Four of those “Mighty 5” — Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Zion — were first protected by presidents of both parties using the Antiquities Act.

Trump’s EO on national monuments can’t be fought. But the proposed changes to these monuments that come from this EO can be and will be fought both in court and in the street and Trump is likely to lose this one just as he has with some of his other orders. Americans love their public lands and they love their national monuments. A recent poll conducted by Colorado College tells the same story as a slew of other polls over the years: over 80% of Western voters support continued protection for national monuments. And rural people are increasingly standing up for public lands.

review national monuments
El Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico

Why? As I’ve pointed out before, areas surrounding national monuments experience stronger growth or improvement in employment, personal income and increased per-capita income than areas dominated by private or state lands. Rural Western counties with more than 30% PROTECTED public lands have seen employment rise by  345 percent more than areas without protected lands.

Trump and the Republicans are playing a dangerous game with our public lands. Keep an eye on this “review” order and speak up for your public lands:

Call your Congressional Representative now and state very kindly and firmly that you oppose any shrinking or changing of national monument designations. Ask your representative to do everything they can to ensure the integrity of America’s public lands.

Write a follow up letter to your Representative stating your support for the integrity of our national monuments and your support for the Antiquities Act of 1906. Tell them that America’s public lands should remain in the hands of the public and that land management agencies such as the Forest Service, BLM and National Park Service should be fully funded so that they can properly manage our lands.

Write a letter to your local newspaper expressing your support for public lands and national monuments. Let other people know about Trump’s Executive Order and encourage them to take action.

Share this information with every hunter, fisherman, camper, hiker, birdwatcher and environmentalist you can. The one issue that constantly unites Republicans and Democrats is public lands. Encourage everyone to call their congressman.

Finally, I’ll do my best to keep you informed of these moves against public lands. Go to the bottom of the page and sign up to get notifications about new blog posts from this website. Thanks!


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