President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday instructing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review any national monument created since Jan. 1, 1996, that spans at least 100,000 acres in a move he said would “end another egregious use of government power.”
Referring to the 1906 law that empowers a president to take unilateral action to protect cultural, historic or natural resources on federal land that is under threat, Trump declared, “The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time that we ended this abusive practice.”
The sweeping review — which Trump predicted would “end these abuses and return control to the people, the people of all of the states, the people of the United States” — could prompt changes to areas designated not only by former president Barack Obama but also by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday evening, Zinke suggested that he would keep an open mind as he scrutinized past monument designations and that in and of itself the order would not repeal any existing monuments. “I’m not going to predispose what the outcome is going to be.”
But Trump indicated that he was eager to change the boundaries of a 1.35-million-acre national monument Obama declared in December in Utah, Bears Ears, and that he wanted governors and those living near such sites to have the ultimate say over how they’re managed. He noted several opponents of recent Antiquities Act designations, including Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and GOP Govs. Gary R. Herbert of Utah and Paul LePage of Maine, saying, “Today we are putting the states back in charge.”
“I’ve spoken with many state and local leaders, a number of them here today, who care very much about preserving our land and who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab,” Trump said. “And now we’re going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place. . . . And tremendously positive things are going to happen on that incredible land, the likes of which there is nothing more beautiful anywhere in the world.”
The order, which appears to affect 25 existing national monuments, is sure to spark an intense political and legal battle.
Outdoor Industry Association Executive Director Amy Roberts, whose group pulled its major trade show out of Utah in protest of the state government’s opposition to the establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument, said in an interview Tuesday that her members were “concerned” about any effort to alter existing monuments.
“We will participate in that process and make the argument for why these monuments have supported local communities and their economic vitality,” said Roberts, whose group hosted Zinke at an event Tuesday at the National Press Club.
Other groups also voiced opposition.
“As Tribes, we will gather ourselves together to continue the fight to save our lands for the future of not just Native people, but all people who connect with these lands,” Shaun Chapoose, the highest elected officeholder of the Ute Indian Tribe, said in a statement. “Bears Ears National Monument is more than just mere federal land to us, as it may be to many other stakeholders — it is a living landscape; it has a pulse. It is offensive for politicians to call the Bears Ears National Monument ‘an abuse.’ ”
Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement Tuesday night that any attempt to alter or undo an existing monument “isn’t just undermining a century-old law, it’s a betrayal of the people who fought so hard for them and the land and history we’ve all spent generations safeguarding.”
Zinke said he will examine whether any designations had led to “loss of jobs, reduced wages and reduced public access,” because “some of these areas were put off limits for traditional uses, like farming, ranching, timber harvest, mining, oil and gas exploration, fishing, and motorized recreation.”
“We’ll look at what sectors were affected, plus or minus, and that will be part of the recommendation. . . . Some jobs would probably be created by recreation opportunities,” he said. “By and large, the Antiquities Act and the monuments that we have protected have done a great service to the public and are some of our most treasured lands in this country. . . . Those out in the West would probably say it’s abused.”
Grand Staircase Escalante Partners Executive Director Nicole Croft, whose group represents local businesses and other supporters of the Utah monument that Clinton established in 1996, said the tourists who have come to visit since it was established have spurred much broader economic growth in the area. “Tourism is the anchor of the economy. But we now have a dentist in town,” Croft said. “We’ve got a building boom and a labor shortage.”
But Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said it was time for the administration to scrutinize how the Antiquities Act has been applied and “update” the law itself. He noted that the number of active federal grazing permits at Grand Staircase Escalante has been cut nearly in half compared with when it was established, despite the fact that the designation specifically allowed for grazing to continue.
“We’re not against protecting the resource,” Lane said, but added that when it came to the 1906 law, “using it as a multimillion-acre land management tool is not appropriate.”
Croft countered that several factors, including the overall demand for beef and the drought conditions in Utah, have depressed ranching in the area.
The review will also examine major marine areas that Bush and Obama put off limits. That includes Hawaii’s Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which Bush designated in 2006 and Obama quadrupled in size a decade later.
- Rose Atoll
- Grand Canyon-Parashant
- Ironwood Forest
- Vermillion Cliffs
- Sonoran Desert
- Giant Sequoia
- Carrizo Plain
- San Gabriel Mountains
- Berryessa Snow Mountain
- Mojave Trails
- Sand to Snow
- Canyons of the Ancients
- WWII Valor in the Pacific
- Pacific Remote Islands
- Northeast Canyons and Seamounts
- Upper Missouri River Breaks
- Rio Grande del Norte
- Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks
- Basin and Range
- Gold Butte
Northern Mariana Islands and Guam
- Marianas Trench
- Grand Staircase-Escalante
- Bears Ears National
- Hanford Reach
Christy Goldfuss, who headed the White House Council on Environmental Quality at the end of Obama’s second term, said she expects the new administration will have difficulty altering the boundaries of existing monuments.
“The reason that I think this review is a legal and moral minefield is that the Obama administration took extensive pains to include local communities in the process for every single designation,” said Goldfuss, who is now vice president for energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
This will not be the first time an administration has evaluated previous designations under the Antiquities Act. In 2001, Gale Norton, then interior secretary in the George W. Bush administration, scrutinized Clinton’s use of the law, including the establishment of Grand Staircase-Escalante, but chose not to alter any of the monuments he created.
James L. Connaughton, who chaired the Council on Environmental Quality under Bush, said that Bush criticized “the flawed process” that led to Clinton’s designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante and that his deputies solicited local input once he took office.
Although Connaughton defended the Antiquities Act as “one of the best balances between the two branches,” he said Obama had overreached in his expansion of Papahanaumokuakea and the creation of a controversial marine monument off New England’s coast.
“They fell short on the process and the substance underlying the justification for them,” Connaughton said of Obama administration officials. “As a result, it’s created legitimate criticism, which undermines the support for subsequent designations.”
The order calls on Zinke to consider “the requirements and original objectives” of the Antiquities Act, “including the Act’s requirement that reservations of land not exceed ‘the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’ ”
Zinke said he will make a specific recommendation within 45 days on what to do about Bears Ears, which enjoys support from a broad coalition of tribes and environmentalists but is opposed by every GOP elected official in the state. He will issue a final report within 120 days of the order’s signing.
Ultimately, those final recommendations will influence to what extent the review is embraced, or vilified, by many in the outdoors community.
“Neither sportsmen nor other public lands users would stand in the way of an objective attempt to ensure the integrity of recent monument designations,” said John Gale, conservation director for the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, in a statement. “Yet the administration’s announcement — which seems to be spurred by anti-public lands members of Congress in Utah — could create unintended consequences that jeopardize important fish and wildlife habitat on public lands and invite unproductive dialogues that distract us from enhancing management of our public lands and waters.”
A previous version of the Utah map mislabeled the Green River. It has been updated.
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