In April President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the designation of millions of acres of federal land as national monuments under the Antiquities Act. Beginning May 12, the Interior Dept. initiated a “first-ever” public comment period for the two dozen monuments that have been selected for the review process.
The list of national monuments under review can be found here. You can submit comments at the Regulations.Gov web site by clicking here. The Interior Department says substantive comments– or those that detail how the monument affects you and your community– are given the most weight.
You can imagine the response to the Trump Administration’s executive order. The Center for Biological Diversity warned it would take the nation on a “very dangerous path” — “a place where Americans no longer have control over public lands and corporations are left to mine, frack, clear-cut and bulldoze them into oblivion.”
CBD’s statement assumes Americans enjoy a high degree of control over public lands. But it’s certain Americans have little opportunity to influence a president’s ability to use the Antiquities Act to make major federal land use decisions. Unlike new designed wilderness lands, presidents can create new national monuments without approval from elected representatives in the United States Congress.
Unlike proposed forest projects and other actions taken by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, proposed monuments are not subject to the complex web of environmental laws and regulations that govern all other federal land use decisions.
National monument designations are not subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that mandates public participation. It does not require expensive and lengthy consultations between federal agencies to determine impacts to endangered and threatened species.
Creating a new national monument doesn’t require an Environmental Impact Statement, just the stroke of a pen.
A common criticism of the Antiquities Act is that communities are often shut out of the designation process, despite concerns over impacts to jobs and local economies. The citizens who live, work and play on these lands have the most at stake. A couple years ago, Garfield County, Utah famously declared a state of emergency after local school enrollments declined to unsustainable levels. President Bill Clinton’s creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument did not result in a promised economic boom of new tourism jobs. Local leaders are seeking to restore natural resource jobs lost to the designation.
There are also conservation concerns. National monument designations significantly limit the ability of federal land managers to treat forests at risk of catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease. Questions have been raised on the impacts of President Clinton’s Giant Sequoia National Monument, as overgrown and drought-impacted forests on (and near) the 327,000-acre monument have been devastated by fire. We can’t to expect to protect these giant Sequoia stands, nor to protect our natural resources and access to these lands, by simply walking away.
President Obama’s expansion of Oregon’s Cascade Siskiyou National Monument has raised concerns about impacts to dry, fire-prone forests that are now largely off-limits to active forest management. The expansion was opposed by all three counties that host the national monument. It was opposed by members of Congress, state legislators, a local chamber of commerce and thousands of citizens who expressed their opposition. Since the lands have already been designated by Congress for sustained-yield timber management, the expansion has attracted multiple lawsuits.
Yet in records obtained by our organization under the Freedom of Information Act, it was clear that none of this input was put in front of the decision-makers in the Obama Administration. The expansion was orchestrated by a handful of DC insiders, in coordination by activist organizations in a campaign funded by outside interest groups.
Far from being a “path into oblivion,” the Interior Department’s review offers an opportunity to revisit national monuments established by administrative fiat. It offers an opportunity to assess the impacts of designations, a process that may or may not result in changes. Mostly it is an opportunity that many citizens didn’t have before. Visit the comment page at Regulations.Gov and make your voice heard.