On April 26, the Trump administration signed an executive order. This order required the secretary of the department of the interior - Ryan Zinke - to conduct a review of our national monuments. National Monuments that are up for review are any monument created after January 1st 1996 and cover more than 100,000 acres.
The Antiquities Act of 1906, created by former president and outdoor enthusiast Theodore Roosevelt, allows the president to designate national monuments.
Because of this act, there has been a lot of controversy about the designation of certain national monuments. Mainly from former president Barack Obama’s designation of Bears Ears National Monument this past December. The designation of Bears Ears protects more than one million acres.
Due to the large area the monument covers, some have taken this as a sign of government overreach. The Antiquities Act states that monuments designated by a president “shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected”. Because of this perceived overreach, many have been questioning the designation of some of our larger monuments.
The white house released a list of monuments under review including the following:
|Arizona||Grand Canyon-Parashant||2000||1,048,325 acres|
|Arizona||Ironwood Forest||2000||188,619 acres|
|Arizona||Sonoran Desert||2001||496,400 acres|
|Arizona||Vermilion Cliffs||2000||293,689 acres|
|California||Berryessa Snow Mountain||2015||330,780 acres|
|California||Carrizo Plain||2001||246,812 acres|
|California||Mojave Trails||2016||1,600,000 acres|
|California||Sand to Snow||2016||154,000 acres|
|California||San Gabriel Mountains||2014||346,177 acres|
|Colorado||Canyons of the Ancients||2000||176,056 acres|
|Hawaii||Papahanaumokuakea||2006 / 2016||373,120,000 acres
|Idaho||Craters of the Moon||1924 / 2000||464,303 acres|
|Maine||Katahdin Woods and Waters||2016||87,563 acres|
|Montana||Upper Missouri River Breaks||2001||495,502 acres|
|Nevada||Basin and Range||2015||704,000 acres|
|Nevada||Gold Butte||2016||296,937 acres|
|New Mexico||Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks||2014||496,330 acres|
|New Mexico||Rio Grande Del Norte||2013||242,455 acres|
|Oregon||Cascade Siskiyou||2000 / 2017||86,774 acres|
|Utah||Bears Ears||2016||1,351,849 acres|
|Utah||Grand Staircase-Escalante||1996||1,880,461 acres|
|Washington||Hanford Reach||2000||194,451 acres|
Other Public Land Issues
However, the national monument review isn't the only threat our public lands face. There has also been an ongoing drive to transfer federal land back to the states.
On the surface this seems fiscally responsible from a federal stand point. It costs a lot of money for the federal government to manage all of the land it owns. This issue has largely been driven by Utah and their transfer of public lands act. The state law requires that the federal government transfer federal land back to Utah. Thankfully, the federal government just ignored this ridiculous state law.
A study conducted by the University of Utah found that if federally owned land is transferred back to Utah, taxpayers will get stuck with an annual 280 million dollar bill.
However, Utah isn’t the only state to conduct surveys of land ownership. Montana also conducted its own survey and found that taxpayers would be stuck with an annual price tag of 500 million dollars.
What does this mean?
Unfortunately states simply can’t afford the large costs to maintain that much land. If federal lands are transferred back to the states a few things could happen: Because of the costs of land maintenance, taxes would have to be raised (something no politician wants to do); states will have to increase oil, gas, and timber extraction; or they’ll be forced to sell the land to private owners.
We can already see this happening in Oregon with the Elliot State Forest. The state owned forest has stopped being profitable. Because of the lack of profit, Oregon has already been forced to sell off part of its state owned forest. Legislators have recently started talks of selling off the rest of the land. Luckily in a break through on Tuesday, Field and Stream reported that legislators have voted to stop the sale of Elliot forest and will continue to maintain control of it. This is a major win for outdoor enthusiasts and I hope to see more like it in the future.
Our country’s public lands are our nation's greatest treasure. Public lands allow us to get out and enjoy nature, spend time with our family around a roaring campfire, fish for that trophy bass, or hunt for our own food. Whatever the reason, we all need to stand together and make sure that our public lands stay protected and free for all people.
The DOI has opened up comments on its website to weigh in on these issues. So write to them as well as your legislators and let them know how you are affected by these laws. Tell your story or your family’s story, tell them what these lands mean to you and your community. Let them know that public lands belong to all of us, not just the corporations!