In 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act and President Theodore Roosevelt signed it into law. This act established the authority of a president to create national monuments to protect certain public lands and waters for historical, cultural, natural or scientific reasons. As an aside, these are not related to the monuments to the Confederacy that have been much in the news this year. Mount Olympus National Monument (now Olympic National Park) was one of the first monuments created by President Roosevelt. Over the years, more than 100 sites have been designated as national monuments.
In April of this year, Donald Trump issued an executive order directing the Interior Department to review certain monuments for revision. Subsequently 27 monuments were identified by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. In August, Zinke submitted his recommendations but that list has not yet been made public. Based upon information that has been leaked about these recommendations, Zinke is recommending changes in 10 monuments. Slated for significant downsizing are: Bears Ears (by up to 85 percent) and Grand Staircase/Escalante ( by up to 50 percent) in Utah, Cascade/Siskiyou in Oregon and Gold Butte in Nevada.
Other monuments that are recommended for changes are: Organ Mountains/Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico; Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine; Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean; Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll in the South Pacific. The proposed changes would open the land-based monuments to corporate interests, including coal mining, oil and gas drilling, logging and livestock grazing. The changes to the ocean-based monuments would allow for corporate industrial fishing, further damaging the health of our fisheries.
These monuments are unique, valuable and irreplaceable national treasures that need to be protected from looting and industrial-scale exploitation by commercial interests. One of the original purposes of the act was to preserve historical artifacts from people who were damaging these sites in search of the hidden treasures. Now the extractive industries are looking for opportunities to exploit our resources at discount prices and passing the costs off to the rest of society.
Representative Rob Bishop of Utah, one of the most notorious opponents of protecting public lands, has introduced HR 3990 which would modify the Antiquities Act to greatly reduce the protections of public lands provided in the act. Fortunately, Representative Kilmer and Senators Murray and Cantwell are strong supporters of our national monuments and will do what they can to prevent these dangerous changes from taking place. But with Republicans in charge of Congress, the courts may be the only way to stop these attacks on our public land.
While Trump will soon announce changes in these monuments, his order will certainly be challenged by a variety of concerned groups limiting his ability to accomplish anything in the short term. There is no provision in the Antiquities Act, or any subsequent legislation, that allows a president to alter or eliminate any monument. While there have been changes in monument designations in the past, these changes have never been challenged in court — until now.
Now is the time to act and the Center for Biological Diversity has begun a program called Ignite Change to develop grassroots support for protecting our precious national monuments, and I am coordinating those efforts here in our area. For more information, please go to www.ignitechange.org or contact me at 360-589-5809.
Editor’s Note: On Monday, President Donald Trump signed proclamations saying that Bears Ears National Monument will shrink to 220,000 acres from its current 1.5 million-acre size, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be cut in half to about 1 million acres.