Real-estate-developer-in-chief Donald Trump’s executive order just told the Department of the Interior to review at least 22 national monuments created by Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. That’s not only a brazen attack on the 111-year-old Antiquities Act under which those monuments were designated but also a barefaced betrayal of the American people.
Do I really need to list all the reasons why attacking our national monuments is a terrible idea? Maybe some people don’t realize how many national parks, such as the Grand Canyon, were originally protected as national monuments. Or that of the 640 million acres of public land managed by the federal government in the 50 states, only about 12 million are protected as national monuments. Or that protecting public lands from drilling, mining, and other exploitation improves local economies through tourism and outdoor recreation, while also preserving precious natural and cultural legacies? Or that many of these lands are already stressed by climate change (a fact not lost on the more than 200,000 people who turned out for last weekend’s Peoples Climate March)?
I do know this: None of these national monuments were designated casually or without extensive deliberation and input from surrounding communities. Campaigns in support of national monuments can take years and even decades — and they don’t succeed without strong local grassroots support. If getting a national monument designation were easy, the Sierra Club and others would have succeeded in convincing presidents to name a lot more monuments. Our national problem isn’t too many monuments — it’s too few. Many places deserving of protection still don’t have it.
Now Donald Trump, who couldn’t even get a majority of the popular vote, wants to tell the American people that he alone can fix their national monuments — by turning them over to fossil fuel companies and other developers. Here’s what none of the squabbling sycophants in the White House likely had the guts to tell the president: He has no legal right to do so. The Antiquities Act only gives presidents the authority to designate monuments, not to rescind designations made by their predecessors.
If Trump really does try to cancel a national monument, we will fight him in the courts and in Congress. Right now, though, the place to direct your outrage is the Department of the Interior, where Ryan Zinke, a self-professed fan of Theodore Roosevelt, has readily accepted the task of destroying nearly everything that Roosevelt stood for.