Earlier this April, Donald Trump signed an executive order to have the Department of the Interior review all of the national monuments in the United States larger than 100,000 acres. This recent order puts as many as 40 monuments at risk of losing their special status or having a smaller protected area. Some of the most well-known national monuments for review are the Giant Sequoias in California, the Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, the Pacific Remote Islands in Hawaii, and the Gold Butte in Nevada.
Credit for the national monument status is owed to President Theodore Roosevelt who sign a law that makes it a federal crime to alter or destroy ruins or ancient artifacts on federal land. This law is more formally known as the 1906 Antiquities Act. This law also allows presidents of the country to designate national monuments. Designating these historic or scientifically significant objects or places, preserves them as national monuments in perpetuity for all Americans. Since the Antiquities Act came into effect, all presidents (with the exception of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush), have established national monuments. The United States has a total of 129 national monuments.
Unpredictable Fate of National Monuments
Currently there are 27 national monuments under review by the Trump administration. He is the first president to review and possibly revoke the designation of monuments established by previous presidents. Most of the monuments currently under review were established by President Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama over the past three decades. Trump’s extensive review is said to be motivated by President Obama’s last minute designation of 1.3 million acres for the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. According to the Antiquities Act, president designations “shall be confined to the smallest area compatible.”
After the review, it is unclear whether the Trump administration will try to revoke national monument status to certain areas or try to shrink the protected area. But given the historical, cultural and ecological significance of national monuments, it is almost certain that Trump will be challenged in court if he tries to bypass Congress and makes an executive order to remove or alter any of the national monuments. According to Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law, “The Antiquities Act expressly authorizes the President to create a national monument, but it does not authorize a later President to revoke or modify a national monument”.
Recommendations That Have Been Unveiled
Ryan Zinke is the Secretary of the Interior who has been put in charge of overseeing the review of 27 national monuments. The Guardian has revealed some of his recommendations for these monuments: Zinke believes that only 6 of the 27 monuments should be left untouched, and that the Bears Ears national monument in Utah should be shrunk down in size. The other 20 monuments have an unpredictable fate of either losing their status, being reduced in size, or opened up to industrial use.
Since the Interior Department has been looking at more of America’s public lands to invest in commercial opportunities, it’s not surprising that they’ve turned to the country’s national monuments. Many of the monuments have been preserved for decades, but have also piqued the interests of the oil, mining and timber industries. While some groups, such as conservationists, believe that national monuments need to stay or be expanded, they are now pitted against the government and industries who would rather see the land exploited for profits. Zinke has not finalized his recommendations, but one thing is for certain: both sides won’t back down without a fight.