So it’s been a week since I’ve last blogged, and in that time 27 National Monuments have been put under Interior Department review in accordance with President Trump’s executive order. So what does this mean? Well to begin, national monuments are created when congress or the president (by executive order) deem a specific area/statue/land mass culturally, historically, or scientifically significant under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Sec. 2 of the Act states:
“That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected: Provided, That when such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fied unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.”
Therefore, the act can lead to a lot of subjectivity, and what Trump has called for is a review, by the Secretary of the Interior, of 27 monuments, something called for in Sec. 3 of the Act. What is really interesting though, it that both Trump and the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, have called for the first ever formal public comment period on the subject of our national monuments. Zinke commented,
“The Department of the Interior is the steward of America’s greatest treasures and the manager of one-fifth of our land. Part of being a good steward is being a good neighbor and listening to the American people who we represent. Today’s action, initiating a formal public comment process finally gives a voice to local communities and states when it comes to Antiquities Act monument designations. There is no pre-determined outcome on any monument. I look forward to hearing from and engaging with local communities and stakeholders as this process continues.”
I thought this was an exceptionally interesting move, as of course with anything, valid arguments are coming from both sides of the spectrum. While some believe that land is better managed by the state and the people who live on it (rather than distance Washington), others fear the loss of cultural connections to the lands as access and care for it degrade. There are certainly arguments to be had on both sides.
My thoughts are churning though as I sit in a hotel in Gillette, Wyoming after the first shower of a couple weeks. Although, you’ve probably never heard of it, Gillette is the Energy Capital of the Nation providing 40% of the nation’s coal according to the city’s website.
After speaking with some of the locals, my Dad, who is visiting for two days before we go to Idaho, was discussing how with Trump’s support of the coal industry, Gillette is on the up and up, after Obama’s push for solar and sustainable energy degraded their economy. It just reminded me how every move in politics is a double edged sword: every good event also marks a bad one.
I believe the same is true with the National Monument review. In a lot ways, giving land management to the people who live there creates a healthier economy, and allows knowledgeable people to care for the land rather than unattached feds. A good example of this is Utah, which is a hotbed for these issues because 65% of Utah is already federally owned. Therefore, the state has reason to feel a lack of control and local decision making over the land, and how it should be cared for. It’s not as if people in Utah don’t value the cultural aspects of the land, but there is distrust and dislike of a distant president simply declaring something without their full input. On the the other hand, the cultural value of certain areas needs to be preserved and kept pristine. In the case of Bear Ears National Monument in Utah, Obama created it after a proposal by “The Bear Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition,” a group of five Native American tribes whose culture and ancestry find the actual “Bear Ears” and the surrounding land sacred.
Moreover, the land contains several archaeological and historic sites, while also being a place well-loved by outdoor enthusiasts who fear that if it isn’t protected, economic interests could alter the landscape and eliminate access. But the Antiquities Act is not suppose to be simply a land management tool for the federal government. As it states it is for preserving historic, prehistoric, or scientific places, while taking the smallest amount of land needed to preserve those areas.
So what do you think? It actually matters this time because Zinke and Trump want to know what you think about the Act, its use, its function, and the monuments it protects. I encourage you to research more and weigh in on the subject because this is your land. From the US Department of the Interior, “Comments may be submitted online after May 12 http://www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.”
Below are the sources I used and they can be used as your starting point. But I will leave you with this: