Leaked document reveals smaller footprint for some national monuments
Producers encouraged by the Department of the Interior’s recommendations to adjust some national monument boundaries have good reason to believe the current administration will move forward as planned, considering President Trump’s history.
A leaked document, outlining plans to shrink acreage and restore use is under review, despite deep-pocketed environmental groups that are nothing short of outraged and lining up with legal challenges.
The leaked memo, labeled “Final Report Summarizing Findings of the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act,” shows Zinke concluded after a nearly four-month review that it is a bipartisan issue, with both Republican and Democratic presidents misusing the act in recent decades by limiting commercial activities in protected areas.
“It appears that certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining and timber production rather than to protect specific objects,” the report reads.
To correct this overreach, Zinke said, Trump should use his authority under the Antiquities Act to change each of the 10 sites’ proclamations to permit activities that are now restricted. In most of his recommendations, Zinke suggests Trump amend the existing proclamations “to protect objects and prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades, repair and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.”
In August, the department issued a final report after an extensive review of the Antiquities Act designations, ordered by President Trump, which included listening sessions in the field and a public comment period. That document was leaked, recently, in a Washington Post article, offering a closer look at the actual recommendations from the department.
“It is clear that presidents have repeatedly abused their authority under the Antiquities Act locking up over 250 million acres of land and water without local input or economic analysis. We are grateful to (U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke) and his team for soliciting feedback from those most affected by executive land grabs, and look forward to swift action from the White House in response to the recommendations that aligns with the original intent of the Antiquities Act,” said Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council.
While the leaked document is the main source at this point, Lane said there is reason to believe Trump will act on it.
“It’s refreshing that the department has heard some of our concerns,” Lane said.
The recommendations include modification of 10 national monuments, Lane said, including strengthening the grazing language and shrinking about a million acres off of Utah’s Bears Ears and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.
The plan emphasizes the need to adjust regulations and to address concerns of local officials or affected industries, saying the administration should permit “traditional uses” now restricted within the monuments’ boundaries, such as grazing, logging, coal mining and commercial fishing.
In March, Zinke visited with producers in Washington D.C., promising to hold the agency accountable and to restore trust in the department.
“We’re going to manage our properties just like you (ranchers) would manage your private lands,” Zinke said. “Washington D.C. needs to understand that we work for the people, not the other way around.”
That research and promise has led Zinke to his recommendations. The 19-page document, submitted on Aug. 24, details the review process, and discusses the Antiquities Act use and abuse since Theodore Roosevelt signed it in 1906.
The act, established to preserve archeological sites on public lands for future generations set important precedents, but many believe it has been used as a tool for environmentalists to wage a war on public grazing, logging, mining and even public use.
“In shaping public policy to protect a broad array of cultural and natural resources, the impact of the Antiquities Act is unmatched,” the National Park Service website boasts.
But the act was created in a different era, and arguably needs adjustment. It has been used by presidents throughout history to unilaterally to set aside millions of acres of land and water for special protections with no procedural protections for those in affected areas.
For example, Clinton’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which covers almost 1.9 million acres halted mining operations that would have provided much-needed income in rural Utah communities, but the communities received just 24-hour’s notice before the designation announcement.
Todd Devlin, a rancher/farmer and Prairie County, Montana, commissioner, said the dated act is being misused.
“The (act) was designed to protect objects. Congress was not talking about land and waters,” Devlin said, pointing out that there are plenty of other laws on the book that cover those areas. “In the case of the Antiquities Act, they got away from (the purpose).”
The act also specifically says monuments should include the smallest area needed to protect a specific object. “Congress wisely placed limits on the president by defining the objects that may be included within a monument as being ‘historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest,’ by restricting the authority of federal lands, and by limiting the size of the monument to the ‘smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects,’” the document reads.
“Devils Tower, for example, they took only four sections,” Devlin said, but today, he believes “it’s going way over the top.”
Devils Tower is obviously an object, he agreed, but looking at some of the other designated monuments, there is no monument to be protected.
“This is about as ambiguous as it can get,” he added.
The National Environmental Policy Act process, which begins when a federal agency develops a proposal to take federal action, is not a requirement for the Antiquities Act. The lack of review for the overnight monuments creates an additional challenge to the communities affected.
“NEPA was one of the first laws ever written that establishes the broad national framework for protecting our environment. NEPA’s basic policy is to assure that all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that significantly affects the environment,” according to the NEPA website.
“NEPA requirements are invoked when airports, buildings, military complexes, highways, parkland purchases and other federal activities are proposed. Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements, which are assessments of the likelihood of impacts from alternative courses of action, are required from all federal agencies and are the most visible NEPA requirements.”
NO BAD MONUMENTS
Environmentalist groups calling the administration’s discussion on adjusting some of the national monument boundaries and uses outrageous, have no concern for the NEPA process, Lane pointed out, at least not in these cases, but fight for it when it comes to topics such as climate change, coal mining and logging.
“There is no such thing as a bad monument, as far as they are concerned,” Lane said.
Since established, the act has been used by 16 presidents, with only three opting out: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Groups such as the Wilderness Society label any groups or individuals challenging the act as anti-conservationists.
“In recent years, a minority of anti-conservation lawmakers have tried to undermine the president’s ability to use the Antiquities Act. Numerous bills have been introduced to weaken the act. At Wilderness, we believe such attacks are out of line with American conservation values,” the group writes on its website.
Deep-pocketed environmental, activists’ lawsuit threats are already hitting the press.
“We believe the Trump administration has no legal authority to alter or erase protections for national treasures,” Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, said in a statement. “If President Trump acts in support of these recommendations, the Wilderness Society will move swiftly to challenge those actions in court. We urge the president to ignore these illegal and dangerous recommendations and instead act to preserve our natural wonders that are at the core of a great nation.”
The lawsuits make it difficult, Devlin said.
“You can’t afford to continually fight it,” he said. “I totally support what (Zinke) is doing. But in my opinion he is not going far enough.”
Roosevelt, dubbed America’s greatest conservationist used the act 18 times, over three years, to establish 230 million acres of public lands. Obama topped it, with 265 million acres.
Designed to protect federal lands and resources quickly, the act has been used to create 157 monuments.
The Trump Administration has not commented on the document that can be found online at http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4052225-Interior-Secretary-Ryan-Zinke-s-Report-to-the.html. ❖
— Eatherton is a freelance writer from Beaulah, Wyo. When she’s not writing, she’s riding her horse or playing with her grandson. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.