As predicted, Trump goes after the national monuments

The major national monuments of the last 20 years on the chopping block

President Trump has just signed a much-predicted executive order that mandates a review of all the national monuments established since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres.

National monuments are established under the Antiquities Act of 1906 that gives Presidents the power to protect, “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, . . ..”

Well over a hundred have been created by various presidents of both parties since 1906. President Theodore Roosevelt was the motivating force behind that law, and he established many monuments. Most of the larger ones have since been made into national parks. Grand Canyon was the largest.  No national monument has even been revoked by a subsequent President, but one (Mount Olympus) was reduced in size. This action by President Woodrow Wilson reduced Olympic Peak National Monument, but is was never litigated. Instead after a period it was made part of the new and larger Olympic National Park.

The Antiquities Act also reads, regarding the size of a national monument, . . . “the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected . . . [boldface mine].” In the past, opponents of particular monuments have sometimes argued that the monument is too big — not the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the things that need to be protected. The few federal court cases on this have rejected the plaintiff’s claims of a monument being too large.

Many national monuments have been established and then enlarged by subsequent Presidents. This is the first time there has been any general order to look at them for reduction or even elimination. It is unclear whether a future President has the unilateral power to do what Trump is proposing. Many say he lacks the power.

Today there are 129 national monuments, ranging greatly in size.

Trump’s rhetoric in signing the order was, as usual, bombastic and full of lies. When he signed his order, Trump said it would end “another egregious abuse of federal power” and “give that power back to the states and to the people where it belongs.” If this is a land grab, it has been going on for 111 years with much general support from the people Trump said he is giving power back to. Designation of a national monument takes no land from a state. Abolishing one gives no land to a state. It is all federal public land, all of the time.

Perhaps the most controversial new monument is Bears Ears in southeastern Utah. It was established by Obama in his last month in office. The Utah congressional delegation and Utah’s governor are strident advocates of abolishing all of our public lands and they certainly opposed the Bears Ears monument which is in a very sparsely populated part of Utah. This should be remembered when they talk about “the people.” It means the people they are politically important to themselves.

The monument is in Utah’s largest county, San Juan, population 17,000. San Juan county is split about 50:50 between Whites and Native Americans. Most of the Whites, except newcomers, like to think of themselves as dependent on ranching, mining and drilling for oil and gas for a living although this is hardly true. Tourism has been a major component for years, and it continues to grow. Most of the newcomers have arrived to enjoy the scenery not extract minerals. The number of full time ranchers depending on public land is trivial. San Juan County is the fastest growing county in Utah. Three thousand newcomers added to a base of 14,000 is a high percentage growth rate.

Native Americans are half of the population and they, especially their leaders, support the Bears Ears National Monument. Somehow the Native Americans don’t seem to count when the Utah politicians and Trump talk about the people. As a native Utahan, I know that is the local tradition.

Past Presidents have often changed the federal agency that manages the land when they have created a new national monument. They have turned it over to the National Park Service. However, since President Bill Clinton, they have not. For example, if it was part of a national forest, the US Forest Service continued to manage it; if the BLM (the most common case) the BLM has continued to manage the land.

Recent creations have also given little management direction different from what was already taking place. As a result, the talk about a “land grab” meaning a change in the actual use of the land is not factual. Many conservationists, especially the Western Watersheds Project, have not been happy about the continued livestock grazing on new national monuments.

The creation of new monuments has usually been made to forestall some possible or actual future development. This is where the real anger about national monuments from right wing politicians comes from – foreclosed future development — usually mining or oil and gas. It is not about power of the people, or of the states, or their conception of the proper separation of powers in the federal government. Many national monument opponents try to wrap their base motives in the Constitution.

Each of the monuments Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has been ordered to review deserves an article in itself. These are very larger parcels of land (and water). They include two very large oceanic national monuments that some say are biologically the most important of any of the national monuments.

This order poses a big threat to our system of public lands. If Trump is willing to do this, what will he do to our national forests, national wildlife refuges, national parks, and the vast BLM lands?

The Los Angeles Times has just completed an article with photographs of a number of the monuments now under fire. This is important to read and view. “Here are some of the national monuments being reviewed under Trump’s order.” Los Angeles Times




  1. Frank Krosnicki Avatar
    Frank Krosnicki

    Native Americans’ interests would count big time if they could be counted on for 10 million votes or more, especially in swing states. They would count even more if they were big donors to either party. As always, follow the money!

  2. Kyle Avatar

    Thanks Ralph, Trump’s review is part of the Kabuki Theater for plans to revamp the entire public lands regime. There are no valid studies to demonstrate any significant economic harm caused by the Antiquities Act. The Trump review is designed to initiate a true land grab by the extraction industries.

    Now is the time to rally, call and write our so-called representatives to let them know exactly how we feel about what promises to be a major and disastrous policy departure.

  3. louise kane Avatar
    louise kane

    Thanks Ralph,
    in addition to the constant bad news and this recent idiotic short sighted “order” Mr. frack, drill and extract is talking about drilling offshore in the Atlantic. Perhaps now is now the time for monkey wrench gang style resistance?

    1. mm Avatar

      Doing some minor research on the fast-developing photovoltaic industry will help understanding that it is outpacing fossil fuel industries.

      While the republicans are in general worse, democrats also indulge in pipelines, wolf-killing, and the usualself-interest. (The US population would have, demographers tell us, leveled off at about 285 million, still orders of magnitude too dense. The Obama administration with the same all-energy-forms rhetoric (which Chinese administration used so well to catapult that nation into prominence, for extinctions as well as consumption king) felt that oil and methane should be extracted to continue the colossal energy waste that is the habit of US homeowners, renters, and businesses.

      Partially dissenting local groups and indigenous from British Columbia to Washington (state. Call DC the Disease Center it is, with money in politics being the disease), to Oregon and NW California resisting.
      The Other San Juan County, in Colorado, has a citizen’s alliance doing its best to resist the fracking that pollutes waters and the methane release that is continuing to destroy air quality and the world’s climate.

      I won’t really comment on monkey-wrenching except as history, as it was a pastime for certain kids in the early 1960s in attempt to protect destruction of their local area by developers of all kinds, before it was taken up by later adults & named thus.

      Although statues of limitations may protect some of those who might choose to comment on it, it is now suppressed in a draconian manner, with those who engage in it receiving sentences longer than they have so far lived.

      There are publications existing on the subject, one such free on the internet:
      which is also sold in some bookstores and on the web.
      Offered merely as educational material on hidden history, such technologies exist.

      The history you were taught in formal education has never been that which actually happened; most sentient animals have lived private lives filled with splendor utterly unknown and incomprehensible to the humans who narcissistically promote their “heritage” “heroes” and other fictions.

      Your own lives are as, or more, important, than those who purport to “lead” you about with tasteless green paper, projectile weapons, and sheer dementia (shared by both parts of that equation, “leader” and “follower”).

      Nothing further is appropriate to communicate here; to encourage you to step away from the rhetoric, destruction, and fiction of fools, is the intent of the following assertion:
      I have known wolves, ravens, even spiders, a couple bears, octopi and others, wiser than the preponderance of humans ever extant.

      Among such, in a wider world, is continuing refuge (prognostication: It will be your only one), even while human toys can be used from time to time in a vain hope of protecting your other relatives…

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    ^^good posts. I’m really speechless about this.

    Wildlife report: a young deer in the morning, very healthy-looking, eating the grass. And the dandelions in my lawn! Rabbits seem to like the dandelion greens too. I hope the deer keeps at it! 🙂 Then he or she turned sideways and disappeared, as they are so good at doing. Sweet.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan