This morning, the Trump Administration released an Executive Order that could potentially have a big impact on public lands. The administration is calling for a review of National Monuments designated over the last 21 years, partly in response to pressure from Utah legislators who were unhappy with the designation of Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was designated in 1996 (hence the 21 year review). Both Monuments enjoy a broad range of public support, and Bears Ears protects similar geographic boundaries to the proposed Public Lands Initiative legislation Utah’s congressional delegation was unable to successfully steward through Congress over the past several years.
We’ve written before about National Monuments, which are authorized under a piece of legislation called the Antiquities Act (learn more here). Over the past decades, Presidents from both political parties have used the Antiquities Act to provide additional protections to existing national land. Many of those places designated as Monuments, including Grand Teton, the Grand Canyon, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison, went on to become prized National Parks.
So what does this executive order on National Monuments actually mean? We think it could mean a few things:
- The administration may be considering some unprecedented (and potentially illegal) attempts to undo National Monuments, which are designated with broad local support and collaboration, or could be looking for cover for this decision.
- The administration could be looking for ways to make adjustments to National Monument boundaries, which is almost never done, and could be a problem depending on what Monument they seek to revise and what areas they want to remove from protection.
- We could also see this review as an attempt to placate opponents to National Monuments by making them feel heard, but the actual review process could delay any real action.
Adam Cramer, Executive Director of Outdoor Alliance, says that the administration should "Go ahead and take another look. These National Monument designations, especially recent ones, have been so thoroughly vetted by local communities and by all Americans that the administration can't come to any other reasonable conclusion than that they were rightly protected. For the recreation community, National Monuments have been a boon for embracing multiple values on public lands, including specifically protecting activities like climbing, mountain biking, and boating."
No matter what the intention of this Executive Order, we do know a few things. National Monuments are generally designated with a ton of local and popular support. While protecting places through legislation (passed through Congress) is preferable, the Obama administration showed a willingness to designate special places only when Congress was unable to pass legislation (like in the case of the Public Lands Initiative). Historically, the public is glad to see these places recognized and many of them have gone on to receive even more protections (sometimes as National Parks). A thorough review into the use of the Antiquities Act would reveal that National Monument designations, especially in Bears Ears, were the best choice and were the result of exhaustive analysis and discussion with stakeholders.
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