National Monuments Could Be Losing Certain Important Protections

"Because the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was essentially ratified by Congress when it approved a massive land exchange with the state of Utah, any presidential action to alter the boundaries of this monument raises additional legal issues about the President's authority to override congressional action", says Robert Keiter, director of the Wallace Stegner Centre for Land, Resources and the Environment at the University of Utah law school.

Monuments are meant to protect significant landmarks, structures, or "objects of historic or scientific interest" on federal land under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

"If you prioritize logging and grazing and mining over protection, then what you get is a national monument that actually prioritizes the very threats that are going to get rid of the scientifically proven, crucial items for which the monument was designated in the first place".

No president has tried to eliminate a monument, but some have trimmed and redrawn boundaries 18 times, according to the National Park Service.

Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director for the Natural Resources Council of ME, said in a press release that "without more details, we can not yet judge whether these recommendations are acceptable or consistent with the overwhelming view of the ME people". He argues presidents shouldn't restrict that type of usage "unless such action is needed to protect the object".

It was not clear from the memo how much energy development would be allowed on the sites recommended for changes, although the memo cites "active timber management" as a goal, as well as increased public access.

In a 19-page "Memorandum for the President" entitled "Executive Summary and Impressions of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke" bearing the subject line "Final Report Summarizing Findings of the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act", Zinke lays out recommendations on 10 national monuments out of 27 he claimed to review.

In addition to hosting an exceptional range of flora and fauna, the monument area is an important Pacific Northwest biological connectivity corridor enabling species to move back and forth between the Siskiyou Mountains, globally recognized for their botanical diversity, and the southern Cascade Range. "Do we walk or ride horses?" asked Dave Willis, the chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council.

The monument near Taos covers 242,500 acres along the Rio Grande Gorge and has drawn widespread support from sportsmen, rafters, conservationists and Taos Pueblo.

To safeguard that biodiversity, the original proclamation included a rule against driving motor vehicles off-road; the leaked report incorrectly states that all motorized transportation was prohibited. "It would be outrageous", Willis said.

"The only way it could be better if it was from the same year the O&C act happened, because it was the same lawyer who worked on the O&C act, he knew the legislative intent", Freeman said.

Tawnery said the proposal to protect Badger-Two Medicine in western Montana was an idea his group has long advocated, but added, "An attack on one monument is an attack on them all".

"Our feeling is, any reductions by executive order would be illegal", said Jaina Moan, president of the advocacy, activism and lobbying group based in Las Vegas. The vague suggestions now leaving people on both sides of the debate wondering about the national monument's fate. More than 2.8 million comments on the monument review were submitted to the Department of the Interior, the vast majority of which were in favor of keeping the monuments intact. "With rescission off the table, many press reports bought the administration's narrative that it was being measured - even magnanimous - in its treatment of our public lands". "These are national treasures", says McIntosh.


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