1.3 Million Comments Pour In To DOI For National Monument Review
The Department of the Interior (ROI) received more than 1.3 million comments heading into the final hours of the July 10 deadline as it reviews National Monuments designated since 1996 under the 1906 Antiquities Act after an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in April.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended a “right-sized” Bears Ears National Monument in a statement released in mid-June.
“There is no doubt that it is drop-dead gorgeous country and that it merits some degree of protection, but designating a monument that – including state land- encompasses almost 1.5 million-acres where multiple-use management is hindered or prohibited is not the best use of the land and is not in accordance with the intention of the Antiquities Act,” Zinke said on June 12.
Utah lawmakers applauded Zinke’s preliminary recommendation, with Utah State House Speaker Greg Hughes (R-Draper) calling the decision “refreshing,” and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) saying it was “an unquestionable victory for Utah,” balancing concerns of local communities with land protection.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) was disappointed with the administration’s order for a review of the Bears Ears designation, saying, “I challenge any of my colleagues to come down and explain exactly how this 45-day review will uncover information that Western communities somehow missed.”
Bennet’s colleague, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), responded that the review would “find the widespread record of dissent and nearly unanimous local opposition” to the 11th hour designation of Bears Ears National Monument in 2016.
The review of more than two dozen national and marine monuments – including Bears Ears in Utah – for compliance with the Antiquities Act of 1906 directs the Secretary of the Interior to consider multiple factors related to national monument designation, including the effects on adjacent non-federal lands, “concerns of State, tribal, and local governments affected by a designation” including economic development, appropriate classification of “historic landmarks” and objects of “historic or scientific interest,” and compliance with the Act’s insistence on land reservations not exceeding “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
“Recent designations have far exceeded this intent and have instead been used to place millions of acres off limits to productive uses such as energy development,” the Western Energy Alliance wrote in a statement submitted to the DOI. Calling the designations under review an indication of “overreach beyond congressional intent,” the Alliance said the “[l]arge monument designations without the input of local communities and elected officials negatively impact state and local economies in many cases.”
Western Wire is a project of the Alliance.
“Regardless of the interior secretary’s recommendations or the president’s subsequent action, it is clear that the politicized approach to national monument protection is broken,” the free market Property and Environment Research Center wrote. “Many of the designations are made in the eleventh hour of an outgoing president’s term, and any protections these designations actually provide are politically tenuous, as evidenced by the current review process.”
“Given how the act has been used in recent years, it’s no surprise that it continues to generate controversy, especially among the communities most affected by monument designations. By allowing presidents to set aside large swaths of public land with the stroke of a pen, the act’s heavy-handed approach produces acrimony among public land users and opposition from local communities,” PERC said.
Local opposition to Bears Ears includes the Blue Mountain Dine’ Community. “The BMDC feels strongly that a cooperative, local approach through the Public Lands Initiative would create a National Conservation Area, which would better balance the interests of all local stakeholders and the need to preserve the area for all future generations for all people,” BMDC wrote in June 2016.
“[W]e disagree that the creation of an Inter-Tribal National Monument will be in the best interests and welfare of not only local Navajo people, but of all locals who love the land of their heritage,” wrote BMDC.
Balancing local interests and economic development is a frequent refrain, and a similar review of designations of Marine National Monuments, also ordered by the Trump administration in April, mirrored those concerns expressed throughout the West.
The Department of Commerce, Economic Development Division of the American Samoa Government noted in its comments a continued unemployment rate in 2016 that remained above 10 percent in asking for the removal of fishing restrictions in the Marine National Monuments. An expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument of more than 55 million acres would “jeopardize the sustainability of the local cannery industry and will directly impacted [sic] the local economy in terms of employment creation, revenue collections and local economic development efforts,” ASG wrote.
Twenty-one national monuments larger than 100,000 acres – more than 11 million acres in total – are included in the review. The monuments are located in 10 Western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Utah.