Terry H. Schwadron
Aug. 26, 2017
Hmmm. With his voice raised in anger, real or staged, President Trump has been calling out journalists, Democrats, counter-white supremacy protesters and lots of others for wanting to rewrite American history by destroying statues and monuments that reflect the glory of Confederate generals of the Civil War era.
This week, Team Trump announced its own attack on much larger U.S. monuments — parklands across the west. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the results of his months-long review of national monument lands in the West, concluding that in several cases safeguards should be rolled back to make way for more oil and mineral exploration on those parklands. Zinke said he would recommend no change for six monuments and reduction of at least 15 others, acts that will trigger political and legal battles.
After looking at 27 national monuments, which technically differ from national parks by how they are declared, Zinke said he would be recommending boundary adjustments for several. No site would be eliminated altogether (legally he cannot do so, apparently), but the area covered by each presidential declaration can be adjusted in size.
Either way, monument lands set aside for public access uses such as hunting, fishing, campaign, even grazing will be trimmed to allow more use for business. Clearly, conservation groups have feared that this review would open substantial portions of such lands to oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and other industries that Team Trump has advocated.
I have lived in the West, and the feeling there about the land is different that elsewhere, more passionate, more, well, earthy. Big agriculture, big mining, big drilling are seen as taking on oversized roles in chomping away the land. This is something Donald Trump clearly cannot understand.
The Guardian quoted Dan Hartinger, deputy director of parks and public lands defense at the Wilderness Organization, who called Zinke’s announcement a loss for the American people. “This effort to erase protections for current national monuments is not only horribly misguided and places at risk cultural, historical and natural resources, but it is also illegal.
“This is not something they have the authority to do.”
For his part, Zinke stressed that no site would be abandoned. He said the review looked at protecting tribal interests and historical land grants and the needs of ranchers who have opposed two New Mexico monuments proclaimed by Barack Obama.
Behind the scenes is a fight about the 111-year-old Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows the executive branch to unilaterally protect public lands by declaring them national monuments, a power some see as an obstacle to industrial development and commercial enterprise.
Utah’s congressional delegation played a key role in bringing the fight against national monuments like Bears Ears to the attention of the White House.
Bears Ears is a good example. It is a 1.3 million acre expanse of canyons, mesas and Native American artifacts that was designated by Obama supported by a coalition of tribal groups and conservationists and opposed by local politicians and industrial interests. Zinke recommended that Bears Ears should be shrunk to the “smallest area compatible” with its conservation.
So critics of this review will undoubtably pursue legal action in court to stop it, citing that antiquities act.
Personally, I see this as part of the continuum of attacking our environmental rules and regulations, concern over climate, and, strangely, a selective memory about which aspects of Americana that the White House wants to maintain. How the President could get himself exercised about knocking over statues build decades after the Civil War in order to rub salt in the wounds of Civil War memories and ignore these kind of monuments is a delicious dilemma.
It turns out, then, that sweeping wilderness vistas, archaeological relics dating back thousands of years, and undersea worlds of corals, anemones and rare marine species are less important to the President than assuring fossil fuel industries of new lands to explore
Mr. Trump is no fan of the antiquities act, saying that it “does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time that we ended this abusive practice.” But Interior’s review has come up against vehement pushback. The department received more than 2.4 million public comments — with an overwhelming majority supporting the current designations, according to an analysis by the Center for Western Priorities.
Besides Bears Ears, the most likely candidates for change include the Basin and Range National Monument, 703,000 acres in southeastern Nevada, an area of desert that serves as a migration corridor for mule deer and pronghorn and a habitat for imperiled species, such as the sage grouse, hoary bat and flowering White River catseye. By contrast, the Congressional Western Caucus see it as a “personal favor to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid” and should be cut to 2,500 acres — a decrease of more than 99 percent.
Another Southern California’s Carrizo Plain, which breaks into flower every spring. Bill Clinton identified 204,100 acres as the Carrizo Plain National Monument as a prime tourist attraction. . Traversed by the San Andreas Fault and framed by mountain ranges on the east and west, it includes the aptly named Soda Lake, a natural alkali wetland that turns white in the dry season.
Many local businesses and officials support the monument designation. But industry thinks it a place where oil and gas might be mined.
Likewise, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, home to several richly diverse ecosystems.
in southwestern Oregon was established by Clinton in June 2000 and expanded by Obama just before he left office in January. It is seen as prime land for local ranchers and logging companies rather than parkland.
The 297,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument, designated in southeastern Nevada last December, was at the center of a controversy over rancher Cliven Bundy whose family defied the federal government’s authority and refused to pay more than $1 million in fees and fines for grazing their cattle on public land. They engaged in an armed standoff in 2014 with Bureau of Land Management officials here. Zinke wants to reduce its size.
The list goes on, but it will all go to the White House, and the President will sign off on the reductions.
We can predict that Mr. Trump will trumpet jobs in attacking these monuments, not owning that he is “rewriting” American history.