Strategies abound to overturn controversial monuments
—Lawmakers look at improvements to creation, management
Storms are brewing over multiple controversial monument designations from the last administration. Former President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act of 1906 more than any other president to create about 20 million acres of onshore monuments and nearly 550 million acres of marine monuments.
Opposition to Obama’s monuments has taken many forms; from legal action to legislative action to asking President Donald Trump for executive action. Last month, the governors of both Utah and Maine made separate requests that Trump rescind two of his predecessor’s 11th-hour designations, the 1.35-million-acre Bear Ears monument in Utah and the 87,500-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters monument in Maine.
Trump has also reportedly heard from Utah’s delegation, which unanimously opposes the Bear Ears designation.
According to the Associated Press, the White House has said Trump’s staff is now reviewing those designations to determine their economic impacts, whether the law was followed, and whether there was appropriate consultation with local officials.
More pushback from Utah
On Feb. 3, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a state bill, H.C.R. 11, asking Trump to rescind the 1.35-millionacre Bear Ears designation, located in San Juan County. The bill states the economic importance of continued multiple use on the lands covered by the monument. The monument includes 109,000 acres of school and institutional trust land designated to produce funding for Utah’s schools.
Utah has some experience with the economics of national monuments, the bill points out, including the fact that “grazing has declined by almost a third in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument despite [former President Clinton’s] promise that grazing would ‘remain at historical levels.’” The bill notes the designation was opposed by every member of Utah’s congressional delegation; the governor; local Native American groups with historical ties to the area; the San Juan County Commission; and many other Utah counties.
But Utah’s going farther than just asking for executive mercy: It’s also considering a way for the state to acquire and manage the Bear Ears. Utah’s legislature is considering H.C.R. 24, which proposes to acquire the land using an existing federal law, the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. That act authorizes the sale or lease of public lands to state and local governments for recreational or public purposes.
Management of the monument would be a joint coalition effort that includes local elected officials and tribes. H.C.R. 24 is coupled with H.B. 385, which would al low
for state monuments in Utah. It includes new rules for management of prospective state monuments, and the process by which such monuments would be designated by state legislature. The process would give affected counties a voice, and allow cities within the proposed monument to prevent the designation altogether.
Then there’s the courtroom.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has vowed a lawsuit over the Bears Ears designation, and a San Juan County commissioner indicated the county may join such a lawsuit.
Utah wouldn’t be alone:
Litigation is pending regarding the newly-expanded Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (CSNM) in northern California and southern Oregon. Former President Obama expanded the CSNM shortly before leaving office. Two timber companies filed suit in federal court last month, saying the expansion has already hurt timber sales in the area.
The Association of O&C Counties has also filed suit against the CSNM expansion. The association represents counties that were promised, under the O&C Lands Act of 1937, that 2.1 million acres of former railroad lands in western Oregon will perpetually serve as productive timber lands, and that a percentage of the receipts will go to the counties. The newly-expanded monument covers roughly 50,000 acres of those O&C lands.
Across the country in New England, a coalition of commercial fishing groups filed a lawsuit on March 7 to challenge Obama’s September 2016 creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. This monument covers nearly 5,000 square miles of underwater canyons and mountains. Most of that area will now be closed to commercial fishing, which has prompted the suit.
Although the outcome of the lawsuits is impossible to know, the Trump administration could choose not to defend the government in court—therefore giving way to the possible repeal of the designations in question.
Congressional representatives of some of the controversial monuments are also considering the appropriations process as a way to stymie the designations. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R- UT3), who recently testified before the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee, asked Congress to refuse funding to fulfill the Bear Ear’s monument status.
Similar defunding tactics have been pursued in the past, such as by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA1) on the CSNM. LaMalfa’s office also told WLJ that they have asked Trump to rescind the expansion.
In recent congresses, multiple bills to reform the Antiquities Act have been considered and even passed by the House of Representatives.
This session, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has introduced S. 33, which would require a proposed monument to be approved by the affected state and by Congress. The proposal would also have to undergo the analysis and procedures required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
In Nevada, where Obama’s Gold Butte monument has caught fire from local affected citizens and counties, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV2) have introduced the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act (S. 22 and H.R. 243) in their respective branches of Congress.
Should the bill be enacted, Nevada would join the State of Wyoming, which in 1950 secured legislation that prevents any new monuments in the state without congressional approval or local support.
Words from the administration
Public statements by the administration regarding national monuments, though few, appear to support local support and continued multiple use. At an October 2016 campaign appearance in Bangor, ME,
Trump said that local concerns with the Katahdin monument were not addressed, and that “Obama and Clinton don’t care that this area badly needs jobs and growth,” as opposed to the restrictive new monument.
Trump’s skepticism towards his predecessor’s sweeping designations seems shared by the new Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke.
“I think what the goal is on monument designation is to make sure you have local, and state, broad support of the people who live there, the people who are most affected by the monument,” Zinke said in his Senate confirmation hearing in January. Zinke commented extensively on monuments in light of many questions from senators on the controversial topic.
It remains to be seen what the new administration will do regarding the Bear Ears, the Katahdin, and other controversial monuments. But as the Trump administration gets its sea legs, Congress and the affected states and local communities are making it known: A change to the status quo is non-negotiable. — Theodora Johnson, WLJ Correspondent