Back in December of last year I wrote about the obscene federal land grab executed by President Barack Obama when he created the Bears Ears National Monument. One of the earlier executive actions taken by President Trump which I applauded was his order to have the Secretary of the Interior review a number of these mislabeled “monuments” for possible removal or alteration. Ryan Zinke completed an extensive tour of these lands in June and released an early summary of his findings at that time, so we had a fairly good idea of what was coming.
Now the final report, while not released yet, has been completed. The available details show that Zinke is taking a far more gentle approach to the trimming than environmentalists feared, but at least three of these massive land grabs are on the chopping block for “alterations” and the list includes Bears Ears, arguably the worst of the bunch. (Washington Post)
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended Thursday that President Trump alter at least three national monuments established by his immediate predecessors, including two in Utah, a move expected to reshape federal land and water protections and certain to trigger major legal fights.
In a report Zinke submitted to the White House, the secretary recommended reducing the size of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, as well as Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, according to multiple individuals briefed on the decision.
This is a somewhat disappointing list because there are several other such tracts of land which could use some trimming, but at least it’s a start. The biggest problem, as we’ve discussed here before, is that none of these areas are in line with either the letter or the spirit of the Antiquities Act. Rather than focusing on the proper definitions of monuments versus parks, a statement from the Interior Department said that one factor Zinke took into account was the fact that there was “very little, to no, local opposition” to some of them, such as California’s massive Sand to Snow Monument. (That one clocks in at 154K acres.)
Therein lies the problem. The question at hand should really have relatively little to do with local opposition or lack thereof. It’s a question of propriety under the law. Sand to Snow is hardly unique in its various properties, though certainly beautiful and a great tourist destination. It is not, however, “a thing.” It’s a massive tract of land. That means that if you want to set it aside from development or private use, Congress should designate it as a national park. The idea of National Monuments was clearly spelled out in the Antiquities Act and they are supposed to be unique “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”
Every part of the legislation speaks to specific objects and features, not landscapes. And if that’s not enough for you, the act goes one step further, cautioning that such monuments be confined to, “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
The WaPo article is talking about the “major legal fights” to come, gleefully quoting analysts who claim that Trump will be on, “shaky legal ground” if he tries to trim down these monuments. I suppose they are ignoring the fact that past presidents have already done so without apparent legal impediment. They also don’t seem to have actually read the Antiquities Act. But, of course, since we’re talking about Donald Trump and not Barack Obama they’ll probably be able to find some judge (most likely in the Ninth Circuit) willing to block these actions.