Earlier this week, President Trump issued two proclamations to remove federal protections from roughly 2 million acres in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments — the largest reduction of public lands protections in U.S. history.
I watched his speech and read his proclamations — and here are 7 things I think the president needs to know about national monuments.
1. The president does not have legal authority to abolish national monuments or remove their legal protections. The Antiquities Act grants a president the authority to create, but not to undo, national monuments. In 1938, the Attorney General concluded that the national monument designations could only be reversed by Congress; a 1976 law, the Federal Land Policy Management Act, upholds this conclusion.
2. National monuments belong to all Americans. Public lands are owned by all Americans, not “a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” as Trump asserted in his speech. The people of Utah own them. The people of Alaska own them. The people of Maine own them. And all of the other states, too. Everyone should have a say in their protection.
3. National monuments can only be created from existing federal land. Presidents cannot “grab” private, state or local lands to incorporate into a national monument. By designating national monuments, presidents — Republicans and Democrats alike — have simply protected for the American people what is already ours.
4. Local communities and tribal nations are actively involved in the creation of national monuments. Five Native American tribes fought for years to protect sacred and cultural sites at Bears Ears National Monument. Broad coalitions have been essential in establishing national monuments from Mojave Trails in California to Pullman in Chicago to Fort Monroe in Virginia.
5. Americans overwhelmingly love their public lands and support keeping full federal protections for national monuments. We know this because Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asked the public how they felt about national monuments, and 99.2 percent of the 2.8 million comments he received told him to continue protecting all of our national monuments and not reduce or eliminate their protection.
6. National monuments protect against commercial exploitation while allowing personal recreation. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, for example, allowed hunting, fishing and grazing before becoming national monuments, and these uses were preserved after the national monuments were designated. What is not permitted are new oil and gas leases, mines, logging, and other invalid claims by extractive industries.
7. National monuments are good for the economy. Outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in consumer spending and supports 7.6 million jobs annually. Western rural counties with the highest share of federal lands benefitted from higher employment and personal income growth over the last 40 years than counties with fewer public lands.
And one more thing President Trump should know about national monuments:
Park advocates are fired up and speaking out against this terrible assault on American land, history and values. Add your voice by calling on Congress to stand up for the places we all hold dear: Take action now!
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About the author
Theresa Pierno President and CEO
Theresa Pierno is President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. She joined NPCA in 2004 after a distinguished career in public service and natural resource protection, and has helped to solidify the organization's role as the voice of America's national parks.