Several mostly good public lands conservation bills have been introduced in the 115th Congress (2017–18) but languish in committee, unable to get a vote on the floor of the House or the Senate.Read More
Don’t tell anyone, but the more the Bundys—especially the patriarch, Cliven—talk, the better off are America’s public lands. This is true even if Cliven doesn’t again go off-script and full-on racist...Read More
Fresh on the heels of the dismissal of federal charges, Cliven Bundy has filed a new lawsuit against the federal government. The suit was filed on January 25, 2018, in the eighth judicial district in and for Clark County, Nevada.Read More
Abstaining from mineral development offshore is the only way to protect the marine environment and the renewable resources that depend upon it.Read More
The originations of 25 of our 59 national parks, totaling 39.6 million acres, were first seeded by the establishment of a presidentially proclaimed national monument. Fourteen of these monumental 25 were established from more than one national monument proclamation, in that were expanded by later presidents.Read More
The Trump administration is moving ahead with its intention to review and rescind national monument designations for some public lands. Now a leaked memorandum from Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke shows that he will be pointing to unproclamations of portions of national monuments by previous presidents as precedent.... None of the unproclamations were ever litigated, so there has never been a judicial determination of whether those reputable legal scholars are indeed correct. Now, however, if President Trump acts on Secretary Zinke’s recommendations, the time will come for such a test.Read More
Back in the day, an Act of Congress, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, 1906, soon after became commonly known as the “National Monument Act.” The more recently used name of the “Antiquities Act of 1906” must now be changed back to “National Monument Act of 1906.”Read More
The Owyhee Canyonlands in Oregon are worthy of inclusion in the National Park System, administered by the National Park Service. Now that would be local economic development! The Owyhee Canyonlands are worthy of designation by Congress as an overarching national conservation area with underlying wilderness and wild and scenic rivers where appropriate. The Owyhee Canyonlands are not deserving of a half-assed mineral withdrawal that locks in other harmful uses.Read More
Who wouldn’t want “resilient” (“able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions”) forests? With the name Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 (H.R.2936, 115th Congress), what could possibly be wrong with this bill?
Everything. Judge neither a book by its cover nor a bill by its name.
Introduced by Representative Bruce Westerman (R-4th-AR), the bill is the timber industry’s wet dream legislation. In only his second term in Congress, Westerman has received more campaign contributions from Big Timber than any other industry.
The Westerman bill would legislate horrifically harmful public forest policy into law.Read More
National Marine Sanctuaries have been established to protect shipwrecks, whales, coral reefs, and other things marinely spectacular. “Sanctuary” is generally a misnomer, though, in that NMSs are not true sanctuaries from all extractive uses. Most NMSs were established by the secretary of commerce in the process mandated in the NMSA. Surviving this process means that most NMSs come out the other end of the bureaucratic meat grinder as compromised. While oil and gas exploitation is generally banned (sometimes NOAA doesn’t do so, but Congress always steps in and does so ban), other extractive uses are often not.Read More
Public comments are being taken on the regulations.gov website until May 26, 2017, for Bears Ears National Monument and until July 10, 2017, for all the other national moments on the Trump hit list. Register your opinion by clicking the “Comment Now!” button. You have my permission to be frank, blunt, terse, profane, and/or eloquent.Read More
This least outdoors-loving American president makes me appreciate the most outdoors-loving president, Theodore Roosevelt. TR spent many a night outside of a bed under the open stars, including three nights in the Sierra with John Muir. Before TR left office in 1909, he had established, sometimes with Congress and sometimes without: 51 bird reservation, four national game reserves, five national parks, 18 national monuments, and 150 national forests. I fear the losses to be toted up when Trump leaves office.Read More
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!”Read More
The 115th (2017–2018) Congress poses an existential threat to America’s public lands, which comprise 609 million acres across our fifty states. As Republicans have the majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, anti-public-land Republicans are well positioned to advance a wide range of truly horrible legislation....
The support for federal public lands to remain federal public lands and to be managed responsibly for the benefit of this and future generations is broad and deep, while opposition to federal public lands is narrow and shallow. Yet, as has been shown by a plethora of evil legislation, the only thing necessary for bad legislation to pass is for good people not to object.
I object. How about you?Read More
There is no question that an Act of Congress can eliminate, shrink, or weaken a national monument proclaimed by a president pursuant to authority granted by Congress. What Congress giveth, Congress can taketh away. The property clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2) ensures that. Yet in fifty-five Congresses over the past 110 years, Congress has rarely acted to eliminate, reduce, or weaken a national monument proclamation by a president.Read More
The 2016 election of Donald Trump in the Electoral College was a troubling development on many fronts, including that of conserving certain federal public lands as national monuments for this and future generations. The Trump administration is considering entreaties from some aggrieved Republican U.S. senators and members of Congress—as well as some shortsighted local economic interests—to either abolish, reduce, or weaken national monuments proclaimed by previous presidents. They are concentrating on those national monument proclamations by all presidents whose last names start with the letter O.
Proclamations: Exercising Congressionally Delegated Authority
President Obama’s use of the congressionally delegated authority to proclaim national monuments was both vast and visionary. Since President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act of 1906, all U.S. presidents except for Republicans Nixon, G.H.W. Bush, and Reagan have utilized the authority by proclaiming national monuments. Some presidents have proclaimed a lot, some just a few, and some none at all.
The Antiquities Act is as eloquent and visionary as it is brief. Here are the two most important provisions:
(a) Presidential Declaration.—
The President may, in the President’s discretion, declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be national monuments.
(b) Reservation of Land.—
The President may reserve parcels of land as a part of the national monuments. The limits of the parcels shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.
It is important to note that when a president proclaims a national monument, the president is not exercising constitutional authority as president but rather exercising a constitutional authority granted to Congress in the “property clause” (Article IV, Sec. 3, Clause 2) that Congress has delegated to the president. Congressional power over federal public lands is a matter of very settled law, but that doesn’t mean a few whackos don’t reject it.
National monuments are “proclamations,” not “executive orders.” The president issues executive orders under the faithful execution clause of the Constitution (in Article II, Section 3). A president may expand, revoke, or modify a previous executive order. An executive order and a presidential proclamation under the Antiquities Act are absolutely not one and the same.
Mistaken Ideas About Undoing Proclamations
National monument opponents believe a president can undo a national monument proclamation of a predecessor. They are wrong. Let’s examine three potential (il)legal lines of attack: abolition, reduction, and weakening.
The command of the Antiquities Act’s paragraph (a) is clear: the president may declare national monuments. There is no authority to un-declare them. If Congress had meant for a later president to overrule a previous president, it would has said so. Congress did not.
No president has ever abolished a prior president’s national monument. Congress has, but Congress can.
Paragraph (b) requires that a national monument be the “smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” Another gambit—which national monument opponents believe may have a better chance of withstanding judicial scrutiny—is for a later president to officially proclaim that a previous president got it wrong in the original proclamation and secured too much area as a national monument. Another argument might be that factual circumstances have changed, so a smaller area will still protect the objects proclaimed for protection.
Some presidents have by subsequent proclamation reduced the area within a national monument. In some cases, the reduction was accompanied by an expansion elsewhere. While this is precedent in practice, it is not precedent in court—because no court has ever been asked to rule on the matter.
Again, if Congress had meant for a later president to overrule a previous president, it would have said so. Congress did not.
The final gambit may be gutting the protections afforded in the national monument proclamation. Modern national monument proclamations have tended to be very specific and directive as to how the administering agency is to manage the monument (what is allowed and not allowed, and that kind of thing). Some presidents have, by subsequent proclamation, changed management requirements.
While this is precedent in practice, it is not precedent in law—because no court has ever been asked. Again, if Congress had meant for a later president to overrule a previous president, it would have said so. Congress did not.
If President Trump tries to abolish, reduce, or weaken a national monument proclaimed by a predecessor, he will be challenged in federal court and we shall all see if the Antiquities Act means what it says.
For those who want to go deeper on national monuments and law and the power of a subsequent president to cause mischief, I commend to you:
• “The Monumental Legacy of the Antiquities Act of 1906” (Georgia Law Review, Winter 2003) by professor of natural resources law Mark Squillace of the University of Colorado School of Law
• “Antiquities Act: Scope of Authority for Modification of National Monuments” (November 14, 2016) by Alexandra M. Wyatt, legislative attorney for the Congressional Research Service
Endnote: A Novel Legal Challenge
Two lawsuits have been filed to overturn the 47,624-acre expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (CSNM) in Oregon by President Obama in 2016. The original CSNM was proclaimed by President Clinton in 2000 (~52,000 acres since enlarged by 13,359 acres due to the acquisition of generally undeveloped inholdings from willing sellers). The first case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the Association of Oregon and California Counties (“Addicted Counties”), while the second case was filed in the United States District Court for Oregon (Medford) by a couple of timber companies (“Big Timber”).
Addicted Counties believe that their share of timber receipts from the sale of federal timber within the monument expansion to Big Timber will decline. Both Addicted Counties and Big Timber allege that the Antiquities Act of 1906 is trumped (no pun intended; it used to be such a fine word) by the Oregon and California Lands Act of 1937. The latter statute generally prescribes the management of more than two million acres of federal forestland in western Oregon. Big Timber and Addicted Counties believe the O&C Act is a timber uber alles statute, though they’ve yet to find a federal court judge who agrees with them. This is Big Timber’s and Addicted Counties’ latest of several (so far unsuccessful) attempts to have a court declare that the O&C Act of 1937 is indeed a combination of the 11th Commandment and the 28th Amendment. The O&C Act is, in fact, Congress’s first attempt to write a multiple use statute, and along with statutes enacted before and after 1937 (such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act) guide the management of the O&C lands. Both Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center have intervened in the two cases on behalf of several conservation organizations (woe unto Big Timber and Addicted Counties).
To get down and dirty on this obscure statute that applies only to certain federal public lands in western Oregon, I commend to you:
• “The Oregon and California Lands Act: Revisiting the Concept of ‘Dominant Use’” by Deborah Scott and Susan Jane Brown (Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation, 2006)
• “The Oregon and California Railroad Grant Lands’ Sordid Past, Contentious Present, and Uncertain Future: A Century of Conflict” by Michael C. Blumm and Tim Wigington (Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, 2013).
[A Monumental Battle, Part 2: National Monuments in the Congress addresses current congressional shenanigans.]
At 61 and with acrophobia, I’m no use in climbing old trees to defend them from the chainsaw. But a younger generation of activists will sit, en masse, in those threatened old-growth trees, in front of bulldozers, and/or in appropriate offices. And if it comes to that, I’m happy to get arrested in offices of the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Republican Party, the timber industry, or elected officials.
Bring it on, President Trump. Bring it on, Big Timber. Bring it on, Rep. Walden. Go ahead, make my day: reignite the Pacific Northwest timber wars.
Let the battle be joined, as nothing less is at stake than the lands and forests we leave to future generations.Read More
With President-elect Trump having won the Electoral College and the Republicans being in the majority of both houses of the coming 115th (2017-2018) Congress, the public lands conservation community is going to be on defense like never before.
It was either the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) or the Manassa Mauler, William Harrison "Jack" Dempsey (1895–1983) who famously said that the best defense is a good offense. The conservation community needs to be for good things while we are opposing bad things.
Though we’ve burned through one-sixth of the current century, Congress has yet to enact any sweeping and bold public lands conservation legislation in the new millennium. There’s still time though, and a crying need.
You may be questioning my grip on reality at this moment, given the recent election. While I am quite cognizant of the dark times that await us, I’m equally aware that it often takes several Congresses (two-year terms) to enact sweeping and bold legislation into law....
There is no time like the present to begin to change political reality.
The people of Boston might make more money chopping up Old Ironsides into souvenirs and leasing out the space on the water to a floating casino, but they can’t. The oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy doesn’t belong to them alone. The people of Washington DC might make more money if the National Mall were converted to condominiums, but they can’t. The nation’s lawn doesn’t belong to them alone.
Nor do the nation’s federal public lands belong to locals alone.Read More
If one rationally considered the probability of succeeding at elevating a discrete piece of federal public land to the status of a congressionally designated national what-have-you area (wilderness, wild and scenic river, national park, national monument, national recreation area, national wildlife refuge, or such), one might never embark on the voyage. One usually has to overcome an entrenched establishment of industry, locals, and government that doesn’t want things to change. Yet, conservationists proceed anyway, and if they are smart, clever, and persistent (with emphasis on the latter) enough, they do find success. It often takes a generation to change the world, or even a part of it.Read More