Monumental Threat to Public Lands
7 Things to Know About Trump’s Attack on Our National Monuments
President Trump’s attack on national monuments has struck a nerve with Americans, generating tons of media coverage and an outpouring of support for these spectacular public lands.
Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department has opened a 15-day comment period for Bears Ears National Monument and a 60-day comment period for the rest of them. That’s ostensibly so people can share their thoughts on the administration’s “review” of 27 monuments created since 1996. More likely it’s to give Trump and Republicans political cover when they try to hand monument land over to the oil, gas, coal and timber industries.
There’s a significant amount of misinformation being spread by Trump and other monument opponents, but what’s clear is that national monuments and the Antiquities Act, which gives a president authority to designate national monuments, are at grave risk.
Because of this unprecedented attack on more than 1 billion acres of our most beloved public lands and waters ‒ from California’s Giant Sequoia National Monument to Katahdin National Monument in Maine to the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument near American Samoa ‒ we need your support. You can submit a comment to the Interior Department expressing how much you value Bears Ears and all of America’s national monuments. Act before the comment period closes: Deadline is May 26 for Bears Ears National Monument and July 10 for all others.
Here are seven things you should know:
1. National monument designations don’t happen overnight.
The Antiquities Act gives the president authority to create national monuments, but in the 111-year history of this bipartisan, congressionally approved power, there haven’t been any big surprises.
That’s because monument designations take years of study, collaboration, and review to ensure they contain “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures” or “other objects of historic or scientific interest,” as required by the act.
Trump and Utah’s monument-hating politicians, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop, claim that the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments were created in the dead of night, with little public input. In fact, both monuments were years in the making.
2. Oil and coal companies threaten national monuments.
There’s ample evidence that Trump’s April 26 order to “review” national monuments came at the behest of the oil and gas industry. These companies have long wanted to profit by drilling into these iconic landscapes. Trump’s order itself is instructive, saying monuments can “create barriers to achieving energy independence” and “otherwise curtail economic growth.”
The Western Energy Alliance has said there’s “certainly an industry appetite” for drilling at Bears Ears, and President Clinton’s 1996 designation of Grand Staircase scrubbed a Dutch company’s plan to dig up 72 million tons of coal. The fossil fuel industry’s determination to destroy public lands for private profit is exactly why these protections were put in place.
3. Opposition to national monuments is nothing new.
Many of our treasured national parks were first protected as national monuments ‒ including Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Zion, Bryce and Olympia ‒ and each had detractors and doomsayers.
A century ago, naysayers made the same arguments we hear today about jobs and economic growth. History shows they were wrong then, and it will again show they’re wrong now.
The Antiquities Act has allowed presidents from both parties to bypass congressional inaction, hand-wringing and alarmist rhetoric to permanently protect pristine wildlands, and the wildlife and irreplaceable cultural artifacts within, from special interests driven by short-term gains.
4. Most people, by far, support protecting national monuments.
Polls consistently show overwhelming public support for national monuments. Surveys of Western voters, who live in and around most of the public lands at risk, clearly demonstrate that they value public lands and monument protections.
Hunters and anglers, and the outdoor industry that supports them, are also huge monument supporters. In a May 9 letter to members of Congress, more than 100 hunting and fishing organizations across the West decried any efforts to weaken the Antiquities Act or rescind monuments.
It’s worth noting that local and national conservation organizations, Native American tribes and sporting and recreation groups turned to presidents and the Antiquities Act after Congress failed to act.
5. National monuments allow broad public access.
Monument designations protect the land from being exploited by oil, gas, coal, mining, and timber companies, as well as from other harmful activities. Valid mineral rights and existing livestock grazing are generally preserved when new monuments are created.
National monuments also allow hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, mountain biking, and motorized vehicles on roads.
A recent report from outdoor sporting groups details the widespread use of national monuments by anglers, bird-watchers, river rafters, hikers, and hunters, as well as the broad local support that led to their creation. The lands are well used and well loved by generations of area families, as well as tourists.
6. Monument designations are good for business.
National monument protections are a boon to local economies (ask Utah’s Escalante-Boulder Chamber of Commerce), and research shows that Western counties with public lands had healthier economies and created more jobs than those without.
Reams of evidence show monument status helps states and local businesses promote the cultural and natural treasures in their backyards. From gear outfitters to hotels and restaurants, the tourism industry is booming as more Americans seek the wide open spaces and historical context that national monuments provide.
Even if economics were not on the side of protecting cultural and natural resources on public lands, it’s still the right thing to do and the reason Congress enacted the Antiquities Act more than a century ago.
7. Trump has no legal authority to rescind monument designations or change monument boundaries.
Trump can’t overturn a monument designation under the Antiquities Act, period. And while there’s precedent for a president shrinking the boundaries of a monument declared by a predecessor, it’s never been challenged in court.
Trump is certain to face a court challenge if he tries to rescind or reduce the size of a national monument. If he punts to Congress, voters will remember the elected officials who supported taking away their national monuments or weakening the Antiquities Act.
The fate of our natural wonders is not negotiable. Send in your comment today.
Randi Spivak is the public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity.