“The immensity of man’s power to destroy imposes a responsibility to preserve.” – John F. Lacey, in support of the Antiquities Act
If you are interested in nature, the great outdoors, or just observant, you may have noticed President Obama designating a couple of new national monuments. You also might have heard conflicting information and a lot of hot-air noise surround this. In this hyper-partisan world we live in it can be difficult to know what’s what. So, in this post I hope to briefly outline the facts, context, and future outlook on this topic of national monuments.
“In the past 110 years, 16 presidents, (eight Democrats and eight Republicans) have used the power of the Antiquities Act to designate 126 national monuments.” – Hal Herring, A Sportsman’s View of National Monuments
That’s right. Since passage of the Antiquities Act 110 years ago, 16 presidents have designated 126 national monuments. President Obama has used the Act a record 29 times.
Recently, President Obama designated two new monuments, Bears Ears National Monument (1.35 million acres), and the Gold Butte National Monument (300,000 acres).
As the monument proclamation for the Bears Ears reads: “The Bears Ears area has been proposed for protection by members of Congress, Secretaries of the Interior, State and tribal leaders, and local conservationists for at least 80 years. The area contains numerous objects of historic and of scientific interest, and it provides world-class outdoor recreation opportunities, including rock climbing, hunting, hiking, backpacking, canyoneering, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and horseback riding.”
But, not all of us can be enthusiastic outdoorsmen or appreciative of the wonders offered by nature. Congressman Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican, has called it “the most evil act ever invented.” Who wouldn’t want to preserve our great lands, heritage, and protect wildlife for future generations?
Well, there are a few.
Namely, the oil, mining, real estate, and retail industries. Last week, Congressional Republicans made it one step easier to sell off our national lands. In the same rules package that brought everyone’s attention to ethics oversight was also a provision to give away federal lands.
The provision does away with the requirement of accounting for the cost of turning over federal lands to state or local governments. That means, handing over pristine wilderness while pretending it’s a loss of no value.
The obvious question, then, comes to mind, “Can a new president undo monument designation?” Are our land’s protected from relentless special interests?
It would be a first and the Antiquities Act has withstood several bouts with the Supreme Court, effectively making it iron-clad. President-Elect Trump has said, “… I don’t think it’s something that should be sold,” and, “We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.” Trump has also tapped Representative Ryan Zinke to run the Department of the Interior, a foe of federal land transfers. Still, it remains to be seen how a “profits-before-all-else-businessman” reconciles that worldview with the pressures of the oil and mining industries. Either way, the public, you and I, will need to have our voices heard.
Read the proclamations that created the two new monuments (here and here) and both ask for public involvement in the management plans.
(Go here for coverage of the debate over the establishment of the Bear’s Ears National Monument.)