Over the summer, President Trump gave Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, the task of reviewing up to 30 National Monuments. Following his reviews of these sites, Zinke has reported that he will not be eliminating any; But, he’s expected to reduce the size of a handful. Of those, the only we are certain of are the Bear’s Ears and Staircase Escalante Monuments of Utah and the Cascade Siskiyou of Oregon.
Of the reasons given for these reductions, Zinke lists economic and recreational development, as well as the federal overreach of past presidents – most notably, former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama. Parks and monuments under both of these presidents were established under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which notes that Federal Lands should, “be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
This unprecedented review raises concerns through many groups, including a number of conservation groups and native tribes, and may result in legal action to protect the land. Before president Trump signed the executive action on April 26, 2017, no president had considered reducing or eliminating national monuments. This is due to each presidents’ consideration of the legacy they acquired, and maintained.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 was passed during President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, which enabled him to create the United States Forestry Service, consisting of 150 National Forests and 5 National Parks. These, along with other reserves, contributed to 230 million acres of public land. Roosevelt invested much of his career into the outdoors, especially after he began to see loses of species and their habitats. From Bighorn sheep to bison and to elk, he wanted to preserve their homes and keep their populations plentiful for generations to come. He made his passion his life’s work and set a legacy that this generation must uphold.
“Here is your country,” Roosevelt said. “Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
The proposed reduction of federal lands under the Trump administration could potentially be a great disservice to the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt, unless it is executed carefully.
While reductions are indeed better than full eliminations, it’s still not ideal. Interior Secretary Zinke will be stepping into shaky legal ground, as many organizations will act to save the land. Companies like Patagonia and Chaco have campaigned this past summer for the protection of these lands, citing the resizing of these lands will enable corporate buyouts and will pad the pockets of the oil and gas industry. If these lands are opened up, oil and gas drilling along with mining could strip these lands of their value and could cause them to be sold out for corporate interests. But, regulations have been introduced to prevent this – there are at least nine laws in place that work to prevent the exploiting of federal lands.
Not only are environmental organizations invested in this fight, but native tribes are as well. The Bear’s Ears monument withholds a number of Pueblo Tribe artifacts and rock arts, with nearly ten tribes banding together to lobby for this sacred space.
However, there could be some benefits for communities around the lands being reduced. The reduction of these lands and opening of them to the public would allow for Native tribes and sportsmen to have more of a say in the use of these lands than they currently have. The opening of these lands could potentially give the state and the individual more of a say on the future of the land and its protection. This would not be certain unless Congress amends the Antiquities Act of 1906 to better fit Roosevelt’s original goal: protecting the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Congress should work to maintain federal environmental regulations on land effected, but subject the decisions made regarding these lands to the state. Federal overreach on federal lands has caused a multitude of issues Roosevelt couldn’t have ever imagined. In order to maintain these lands at their peak, prioritizing federal backlogs and giving power to the users of the land is in America’s best interest.
The legacy that Teddy Roosevelt set is one of extreme importance for the conservation of our nation’s natural wonders. The overuse of the Antiquities Act of 1906 has taken away the power of the individual to enjoy the land that rightfully belongs to every American. America should seek to maintain land that is sacred to history or to groups such as the Pueblo, but do so in such a way that can protect these matters without restricting lands around it irrationally, as seen under President Obama.
America is home to some of the most beautiful wonders in the world, and it’s our job to maintain these lands and allow them to be enjoyed by every American for generations to come.