By Tommy Hough
As if Donald Trump hasn't done enough to ensure his place as the most anti-environmental president in U.S. history, he's now ordered his Interior Department to appease resource extractors and the Cliven Bundy fringe of the GOP by ordering a review of the status of 27 National Monuments established in the U.S. since 1996. Judging from his rationale for the monuments "review," it's clear the president has no idea how government works, or how National Parks, National Monuments or Wilderness areas are established.
Most National Monuments are the result of lengthy preservation campaigns by individuals and citizens groups, and are managed for varying levels of conservation by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service or U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) once they are established. Generally the agency already managing the area is charged with management of the monument once it's established. While an Act of Congress can establish a National Monument in the same manner as a National Park, the 1906 Antiquities Act gives the president the ability to immediately designate an area of federal land as a National Monument with the stroke of a pen.
Signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act is one of the most powerful pieces of policy-making available to the President of the United States, enabling the president to preserve any area of federal land that may be subject to an imminent ecological threat. Similarly, the Antiquities Act gives the president the power to designate an area of importance as a National Monument if Congress is moving too slowly to preserve it with National Park or Wilderness legislation – or if Congress shows little interest in advancing a conservation option at all.
Among the dozens of iconic locales that President Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to preserve, none is more famous than the Grand Canyon – as much a symbol of the American west as the bald eagle. Roosevelt established the Grand Canyon as a National Monument in 1908, and it became a National Park by an Act of Congress 11 years later in 1919. In the catalogue of great American places, special locales and preserved ecosystems, it's hard to imagine an American west without the Grand Canyon preserved.
Theodore Roosevelt also established Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming in 1906, and what is now Olympic National Park in Washington as Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909. He established Pinnacles National Monument in Monterey County in 1908, which became a National Park 105 years later in 2013.
Two of California's most iconic and frequently visited National Parks, Death Valley and Joshua Tree, were established as National Monuments by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and 1936, respectively. Both became National Parks in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, which also established Mojave National Preserve.
In his remarks on April 26 announcing the monuments review, President Trump specifically referred to Bear Ears National Monument in Utah, which was established as a National Monument by President Obama in December. Located along the border of Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Bear Ears also surrounds Natural Bridges National Monument, and had been the subject of a lengthy, grassroots effort to protect its habitat and ecosystems, along with areas within the monument sacred to the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Uintah, Ouray and Pueblo people. Private property holdings in the monument are not affected by the designation.
Nevertheless, Trump referred to Bear Ears as a "land grab," parroting absurd charges made by anti-conservation extremists. Bear Ears has been managed by the federal government since Utah was a territory. Declaring Bear Ears to be a land grab implies that the land was either sitting around with no owner, or was seized as part of the designation. Both scenarios are false, though it's unlikely that reality has permeated Trump's mind.
While Trump probably doesn't know better, those who make the land grab charge are inciting fools like the Bundy clan, who carried out an armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, in late 2015. Citing the "tyranny" of federal land control (tyranny?), the Bundy clan was apparently unaware that the Malheur had been a National Wildlife Refuge since it was established in 1908 by – who else? President Theodore Roosevelt. The refuge also serves as a center of jobs and economic activity for Harney County. Some tyranny.
Land designated as National Monuments are already on federal land. There is no practice of seizing or taking land from others – unlike the kind of eminent domain laws Mr. Trump frequently benefits from in municipalities where he builds his buildings. The only thing that changes with a National Monument designation is the management of the area, and the understanding the monument will be managed for long-term conservation, not short-term gain.
Like National Parks, National Battlefields and National Historic Places, National Monuments preserve the best of America's natural and cultural heritage, including the wide-open, fault-driven spaces of Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, some of oldest Giant Sequoia groves in the southern Sierra Nevada, and the desert expanses and fragile ecosystems of Mojave Trails National Monument.
Monuments are managed for all Americans to enjoy and revel in, not for a few to profit from at the expense of habitat and our environment. Monuments, parks and wilderness also serve as economic engines for nearby communities, and offer Americans room to roam, hike, hunt, explore and decompress. They are not placeholders, and their integrity and sanctity has always been recognized from one administration to the next.
Secretary Zinke would do his agency credit by paying these special places a visit without the politically-charged mania of press, staff and photo ops, and see for himself why he's lucky to serve as the guardian of these great corners of our nation.
A San Diego broadcast and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.