Congress acts on monuments
— Review of monuments created from 1996 begins
The Department of Interior has begun its review of national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906. On Friday, May 5, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a list of 27 monuments designated or expanded since 1996 that he will be reviewing. He also announced the opening of the “first-ever” formal public comment period for those monuments.
The release follows an executive order by President Donald Trump in April, Order 13792, which directs the secretary to look at monuments designated or expanded after 1996 that were: a) 100,000 acres or more, or b) done “without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”
Among other considerations, the president’s order directs Zinke to determine whether the monuments meet the requirements and original objectives of the Antiquities Act, including the act’s requirement that reservations of land not exceed “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” He is also directed to consider the effects of the designation on multiple-use activities, as well as the concerns of affected state, local and tribal governments.
As part of the review, the secretary is to come up with recommendations for action—either by the president or by Congress.
As for the public comment period being opened for the 27 monuments, Zinke recognized that a comment period is not required by law for monument designations, which have typically been created unilaterally by standing presidents. However, Zinke and President Trump “both strongly believe that local input is a critical component of federal land management,” says Zinke’s announcement.
The monuments now subject to comment include, in alphabetical order by state: Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant, Ironwood Forest, Sonoran Desert and Vermilion Cliffs; California’s Berryessa Snow Mountain, Carrizo Plain, Cascade-Siskiyou (also in Oregon), Giant Sequoia, Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and San Gabriel Mountains; Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients; Idaho’s Craters of the Moon; Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters; Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks; Nevada’s Basin and Range, and Gold Butte; New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte; Utah’s Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante; and Washington’s Hanford Beach.
Five marine monuments are also under review. WLJ spoke with Ray Haupt, an elected supervisor from Siskiyou County, CA. Having formerly served as a U.S. Forest Service supervisor, he said it’s important that comments be “substantive.”
“For example, don’t just say, ‘I oppose the monument’,” he said. “You need to explain why, preferably in a way that shows direct impacts to you.”
Comments may be submitted at www.regulations.gov using the Docket ID DOI-2017-0002-0001, or by mail to: Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240. Comments regarding Utah’s Bear Ears Monument must be submitted by May 26. All others are due July 10.
Haupt said county governments will likely be focusing their comments largely on the economic and safety impacts of the designations. Many monuments prohibit or limit fuel-reducing actions such as logging and grazing, he said, two actions that are also important cultural and economic drivers in many rural areas.
He pointed to a November 2016 letter submitted by Siskiyou County to former- Interior Secretary Sally Jewell regarding the proposed expansion of the Cascade Siskiyou monument.
The letter states that proposed road closures could “severely hamper” activities such as firefighting and fire prevention; search-and-rescue efforts; recreation; and access to range allotments.
Despite the protests of all affected counties, former- President Barack Obama proceeded to expand the Cascade Siskiyou monument, originally designated by former President Bill Clinton in 2000.
Negative economic and cultural effects of special designations have been well documented. For example, according to 2013 congressional testimony by Public Lands Council’s (PLC) Dave Eliason, the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument designation has hit ranching particularly hard. After Clinton designated it in 1996, eight grazing allotments were fully or partially closed. This accounted for roughly 6,000 lost animal unit months (AUMs), Eliason said. More closures were being considered when he gave his testimony.
According to a Carbon County commissioner who also testified in the 2013 hearing, the designation also resulted in the lockingup of $2 billion-worth of mineral lease royalties, as well as 60 percent of Utah’s known coal reserves.
“This blatant political move [President Clinton’s designation] has subsequently devastated the economies of Kane and Garfield Counties and lifestyles of the people who live there,” testified Commissioner John Jones, “greatly damaged the reputation of my beloved Democratic party in rural Utah, and has demolished the Department of Interior’s credibility in a state in which they are the majority landowner.”
Some legislators on Capitol Hill are hoping to prevent the creation or expansion of future monuments that lack local support. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID-1) introduced on May 2 the National Monument Designation Transparency and Accountability Act, H.R. 2284.
The bill would amend the Antiquities Act to require that both state and national-level legislation be enacted before a monument may be designated. It also calls for designations to be preceded by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, including environmental and economic analysis; local government coordination; and formal public comment.
Labrador’s bill is a companion bill to S. 132, introduced by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) in January. A similar bill, S. 33, was also introduced in January by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
“I commend President Trump for highlighting excessive presidential power that ignores the states and the people closest to the land,” Labrador said in a press release. “But we must change the law to achieve lasting reform. My bill requires public input and approval by lawmakers in the states and in Congress before putting more of our lands off limits.” — Theodora Johnson, WLJ correspondent