GOP: eliminate 10 national monuments & shrink 13 more
As the nation prepared for the holiday weekend last Friday, 17 tea party Republicans—members of the Congressional Western Caucus—sent a letter to secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke asking that he downsize or eliminate 27 national monuments across the western United States.
Although the Western Caucus is theoretically open to anyone in Congress, all 70 members are Republicans, including some of the most extremist representatives in the government.
Zinke, himself a member of the caucus before he was appointed to head Interior earlier this year, is in the midst of a contentious 120-day review of national monuments, with an eye toward reducing their acreage or rescinding their presidential designation as monuments. The review was undertaken under Pr*sident Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13972.
In a thin interim report released in mid-June, Zinke showed clearly where he is headed in the review with his recommendation to cut the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, but he did not suggest how many acres should be removed. That plan will presumably be included in the final report due in late August. From Utah to Maine, Zinke has recently been traveling to several monuments.
National monuments on the chopping block
The 27 national monuments under review were all designated since 1996 by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations under the 1906 Antiquities Act, a total of 773.8 million acres. The act was passed at a time when there was a free-for-all in extraction and development on public lands. It saved the Grand Canyon from plunder. The real target of the Zinke review and the Western Caucus members recommendations, however, is the lands President Obama protected during his eight years in office: 553.4 million acres. Most of that land—465 million acres—was added by Obama to existing monuments designated by previous presidents.
In their letter, the tea partiers recommend rescission of monument designations for:
Berryessa Snow Mountain
Kathahdin Woods and Waters
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts.
They also seek to greatly shrink other national monuments. For example, they recommend reducing the Basin and Range National Monument in southeastern Nevada from 704,000 acres to “approximately 2,500 acres.”
Foaming at the mouth
Environmental advocates have pointed out that the downsizing or rescission of Bears Ears and other national monuments that Zinke appears likely to propose in his final report will collide with court precedent and the Federal Land Management and Policy Act of 1976. That law restricts the secretary’s and the president’s authority to reduce the size of monuments or rescind them, putting such decisions firmly in the hands of Congress.
“It speaks volumes that of the 27 monuments and 773.8 million acres currently under review, 14 monuments and more than 553.4 million acres were designated by the Obama Administration,” said Chairman [Paul] Gosar [of Arizona]. “With the stroke of a pen and the blind support of out-of-state extremist groups foaming at the mouth to lock up lands to serve their own agenda, President Obama trampled the will of the people and ignored the wisdom of local stakeholders. I am pleased to have been joined by my colleagues in sending this letter that helps give a voice to those who were often silenced over the last 20 years and provide helpful insight to Secretary Zinke as he conducts his review.” […]
“The Obama Administration abused the Antiquities Act more than any President in our nation’s history. In California and in other western states, federal land grabs have infringed on private property, made it more difficult for the federal government to manage the land, and decreased public access. I fully support the review of these monument designations by the Department of Interior to determine where adjustment is necessary – such as the Cascade Siskiyou Monument, which was expanded against the wishes of every county in the region. Eventually, we must reform the Antiquities act altogether to ensure that any federal land expansion occurs only with the support of Congress and those who live and work in the area,” said Congressman [Doug] LaMalfa [of California].
Ultimately, what this is all about is no different than when the so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” began in the mid-’70s. It’s an attempt to transfer federal acreage to the states, which then may sell it outright, or keep it public but approve extraction and development projects that change the basic character of the land.
Congresspeople and others who make the argument typically call for giving great swaths of land “back” to the states. In fact, it was never theirs to begin with, and no promises were made when they became states to transfer federal land to them.
At the front of the queue if any decision were made to “return” the land would be the Native peoples who had it stolen from them in the first place—mostly at actual or implicit gunpoint.
(Originally appeared at DailyKos. Image CC by BLM.)