National Monument Rollback: Needed To Better the Country
On Monday December 4, President Donald Trump reduced the size of two national monuments in Utah by around two million acres, making it the largest rollback of national monument designations in United States history. In these proclamations, President Trump and his administration state that ‘The Bears Ears National Monument’ will shrink by 85% (201,876 acres), and the ‘Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’ will be cut by 39% (1 million acres). The proclamations effectively split the two vast areas of federally protected land into five far smaller monuments. These changes will take effect in 60 days. Despite being criticized by many environmental activists and democratic leaders across the nation, the decision is not without precedent.
According to President Trump, the primary focus for this proclamation was to represent an end to, “…another egregious abuse of federal power” and, at the same time, “…give power back to the states and to the people, where it belongs.” As President Trump explains, individual states in the United States understand and know their respective governments best. Their individual communities understand, and should be able to regulate their own monuments, without federal government control. These proclamations were a step in the right direction in terms of encouraging state’s rights, limiting the federal regulation in matters best left to local, state and regional policymakers.
As President Trump has explained, previous presidents such as Obama and Bush have overstepped their executive authority in declaring vast tracts of western land off-limits, abusing the ‘purpose, spirit and intent’ of a 1906 law known as the Antiquities Act. That law requires presidents to limit the monument designation to ‘the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’ “These abusers of the Antiquities Act give enormous power to faraway bureaucrats at the expense of the people who actually live here, work here, and make this place their home,” explains Trump, in Salt Lake City, after having announced the recent changes.
There has been a lot of criticism towards President Trump claiming that he has abused his executive power with these proclamations; however, this claim is hypocritical because several previous presidents from both political parties have given executive orders without backlash. For example, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation removing nearly four thousand acres from the Bandelier National Monument. He cited, “…it appears that it would be in the public interest to exclude from…the monument approximately 3,925 acres of land containing limited archeological values which have been fully researched and are not needed to complete the interpretive story of the Bandelier National Monument.”
As President Trump correctly points out, the Antiquities Act has been much abused. The statute was enacted in 1906 to protect Native American burial sites and ruins on federal lands. It criminalized looting by pothunters and authorized the president unilaterally to set aside national monuments. The text, however, placed two firm limits on an Executive’s authority under the Antiquities Act.
While President Trump’s policies and proposed executive orders have been criticized in the past, these proclamations are not only needed, but will be effective in giving power back to the state of Utah in regulating these monuments.
– Maggie Di Sanza
National Monument Rollback: A Bad Decision
In early December, President Trump officially announced that the sizes of Utah’s two massive national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, would be reduced. These orders, together, mark the “largest reversal of national monument protections in U.S. history” and are worth being concerned over. The Bears Ears monument will go from 1.3 million acres to just roughly 15% of its original size and Grand Staircase will be reduced from 1.9 million acres to about 50% of its original size. Such significant decreases in the sizes of these national monuments are concerning. Although President Trump, along with many other Republicans, argue that previous presidents have abused their authority by deeming large areas of land “off limits” to industrialization and motor vehicles under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which provides the government a way to protect important archaeological sites, I truly believe that more harm is being done by taking away so much land.
First and foremost, I feel that this is a sign of disrespect to the nation. National monuments are established because they are significant to a nation in someway, whether that be because they contain archaeological or geographic value worth preserving or because a president deemed it an important area of land for the nation. When that kind of land is being divided and reduced by so much, it seems highly disrespectful to both the leaders who established the land as a national monument and to the country as a whole.
Additionally, it is important to consider what will happen to the Native Americans that occupy these regions. The reductions in the sizes of the monuments were made with no tribal consultation, so it is important to realize that tribal groups will be affected strongly because these lands are their home. According to NPR, tribes took the streets of Salt Lake City to protest this reduction, and even though Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye had requested to meet with President Trump to discuss this issue several times, it never happened.
Furthermore, it is highly likely that this additional land will be used to benefit extractive industries such as oil and gas, mining, and logging, and will give the government more power to grant leases on federal land. This is disappointing, because it will further harm the environment as expressed by the concerns of many environmentalists. It is truly a shame that the land will likely be used for these reasons, and not only because it is a sign of disrespect to sites that we honor in the country, and the fact that it is endangering the lives of thousands of Native Americans, but because environmental damage will be caused and efforts towards a greener and more sustainable society will be hindered.
In protest of this issue, several outdoor clothing and gear companies, such as Patagonia and REI have released strongly worded statements, and Patagonia bluntly stated “the President stole your land from you” on its public Twitter account. However, no response has been given by the federal government, and it is highly likely that the plans follow as through as announced.
Repeal and replace should not be the agenda of every successive political party and administration, and it is disappointing that a decision with multiple faults has been imposed.
– Shruti Sathish