President Trump signed an executive order on April 26, 2017, that directs Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review sixty-two of the last three presidents’ national monument proclamations, dating back to 1996. The review will result in a final report in four months that “shall include recommendations, Presidential actions, legislative proposals, or other actions consistent with law.”
The administration is interested in either totally abolishing, reducing in size, and/or weakening the protections for national monuments. Those prerogatives belong to Congress. If Trump tries, he’ll get a multitude of tweets saying, “See you in court!”
Trump rationalized his executive order by noting that national monument proclamations are a “massive federal land grab” of federal lands, which he appears to not know, are owned by all Americans. If it is a land grab, it’s grabbing back certain federal lands that have been operationally captured by the energy, mining, logging, livestock, and other industries.
Ryan Zinke said, “No one loves their public lands more than I. . . . You can love them as much, but not more than I do.” I’ve heard spouse beaters and child molesters profess a similar kind of love. My love for federal public lands is for the ecological, hydrological, and recreational goods and services they provide for all Americans, now and in the future. Zinke’s love for federal public lands seems to be so they can be exploited by industry for short-term private gain.
This is but the latest assault on national monuments, which has been and is being waged in both the courts and Congress. It’s part of an unprecedented assault upon all federal public lands. For well over a century, national monuments have highlighted the eternal conflict between short-term local interests and the long-term national interest.
Since Congress passed and President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act of 1906, which granted presidents the power to proclaim national monuments on federal lands, every president except for Nixon, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush has used the power to preserve some of America’s most special places for this and future generations. President Obama holds the record for proclaiming or expanding thirty-four national monuments, ranging in size from 0.12 to 375,278,034.09 acres, accounting for two-thirds of all the national monument acreage proclaimed by all presidents.
Based on his hideous executive order, it appears Trump will join most (but not all: we can thank George W. Bush for one-quarter of total national monument acreage) recent Republican presidents in not caring for nature, even in ways that burnish a tarnished presidential legacy. However, given the mercurial flip-flopping of this president, Trump may trump himself and end up using the Antiquities Act to save some nature. With this president, neither history, nor decency, nor rationality provides guideposts to the future.
This review is all about Utah, where the state’s political leadershave been apoplectic about presidential national monuments in that state since President Taft in 1909 proclaimed the Mukuntuweap National Monument (now Zion National Park). Twenty-three of the fifty-eight national parks in the United States started out as presidentially proclaimed national monuments. Perhaps Utah statehood should be reviewed as well.
Trump’s executive order fingered all national monuments more than 100,000 acres in size established since January 1, 1996 (yes, more than two decades ago). The date was chosen to encompass President Clinton’s first national monument proclamation, the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. One of Obama’s last proclamations established the 1.4-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.
Representative Rod Bishop (R-1st-UT), chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) are the nation’s top three public lands enemies, according to an analysis of their legislative records by the Center for Biological Diversity. As part of their jihad against the nation’s public lands, the Utah delegation to Congress was relentless in convincing Trump to move the nation’s conservation policy back to not the twentieth but the nineteenth century. (I’m not kidding about that statehood thing.)
In stark contrast 71% of Utahan supported establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument. Hell, not that percentage of people love their own mother. Why does the Utah congressional delegation hate their Mother Earth so much? Fortunately, more senators than not love national monuments, including thirty-one Democrats who are pushing back on Trump.
This is another example of Trump rewarding his extreme base by taking extreme actions. The battle is joined. National monuments are both morally correct and politically popular. We shall overcome.