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Public Lands & the West

Tracking Proposed National Monument Reductions in the West

In early December, the administration released further details that would sharply cut back several monuments, most particularly the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah. Below, we have updated our breakdown of the status of affected monuments in the American West.

View from Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, including the sun, moon, Mount Shasta and Pilot Rock, captured May 3, 2015, from the Pacific Crest Trail. The Interior Secretary has recommended thart the boundaries of Cascade-Siskiyou be modified to reduce impacts on private lands and timber production. Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

In mid-August 2017, President Trump’s Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, sent a report to the White House recommending modifications to some of the 27 national monuments that he was ordered to place under review. On September 17, the Washington Post obtained a copy. In early December, the administration released further details that would sharply cut back several monuments, most particularly the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah. Below, we have updated our breakdown of the status of affected monuments in the American West.

By Felicity Barringer and Geoff McGhee

Originally published in July 2017. | Status updates follow below.

President Barack Obama’s designation of a 1.3 million acre national monument at Bears Ears in southeastern Utah a year ago was a breathtaking affirmation of the value of the landscape, its archaeological resources and its connection to Native American history, memories and beliefs.

Some Utahns and all their congressional delegation opposed the the monument as a federal land grab. In a breathtaking reversal of the actions of Obama and President Clinton, President Trump just eliminated the protected status from 85 percent of the Bears Ears Monument and about half of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was created in 1996.

The result of this sweeping back-and-forth is ending in the federal courts, which can now rule, for the first time, on the 111-year-old Antiquities Act — the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican president and avid hunter who embodied conservation ideals.

The most notable element of the legal fight is the rise of a new player — the outdoor recreation industry, led by Patagonia — as a champion of conservation. It has joined five Native nations, land-conservation groups and archaeologists in one of the lawsuits arguing that nowhere in the Antiquities Act is a president granted the power to undo his predecessors’ monument decisions.

Two legal scholars, Todd Graziano and John Yoo, challenged that view in a formal paper and a newspaper op-ed, arguing “the authority to execute a discretionary power includes the authority to reverse it. No President (nor any Congress or Supreme Court) can permanently bind his or her successors in their exercise of the executive power.”

But, in the case of the Grand-Staircase Escalante Monument, the presidential designation was later confirmed in a law authorizing a 1998 land swap, praised five years ago by Michael O. Leavitt, former Utah governor and George W. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator. This swap could be a significant legal obstacle to the Trump administration’s efforts to overcome the legal challenges to the reduction in that monument. In the case of the Bears Ears Monument, the legal fight may focus on the difference between adjusting monument boundaries — which other presidents have done — and, essentially, blowing the monument up, leaving only two shards of the original protected area in place.

 

Boundary Modifications Recommended

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Map of Bears Ears

Map: Take a closer look at the area around Bears Ears National Monument »

Status
President Trump issued a proclamation “that the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument are hereby modified and reduced to those lands and interests in land owned or controlled by the Federal Government within the boundaries described on the accompanying map.” (Dec. 4, 2017)
Size
1.3 million acres
Size after proposed changes
201,876 acres in two smaller monuments (Dec. 4, 2017)
Designated
December 2016
Designated by
Barack Obama
 

In late December 2016, President Obama set aside 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument, angering state officials and the county officials in San Juan County, in Utah’s southeast corner. The designation of the land, which includes rich and vulnerable examples of buildings and rock art from prehistoric Native American cultures, prompted many articles pro and con, including some from local residents, which we published in the ‘…& the West’ blog.

In March, the Native American members of the new commission advising the Bears Ears’ management wrote Mr. Zinke a letter reiterating the monument’s value to them. But the land is also important to those who might graze cattle, mine uranium or drill for oil and natural gas. Since 2013, the Interior Department has rebuffed attempts to lease more than 100,000 drillable acres — all of it in or near the monument. Mining of “yellowcake” uranium in the area continues.

Back to List

 

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon and California

Map of Cascades-Siskiyou
Status
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke formally recommended revising the boundaries of the monument without specifying which areas may be excluded. (Dec. 5, 2017)
“Boundary should be revised… to reduce impacts on private lands and remove [Oregon and California] Lands to allow sustained-yield timber production…” (Sept. 2017)
Size
85,000 acres (2000)
133,000 acres (2017)
Size after proposed changes
Unspecified. Report recommends “boundary should be revised.” (Sept. 17)
Designated
June 2000
Designated by
William Clinton
Enlarged
January 2017
Enlarged by
Barack Obama
 

The original monument was designed to protect an area of biological diversity. In 2011, scientists urged expansion.

This did not sit well with the timber industry; this year’s expansion sent it, and the Oregon counties that depend on timber revenues, to court. They claim that the prohibitions against timber harvest fly in the face of a 1937 law encouraging timber harvesting to provide revenue for the rural counties that cannot get tax revenue from federal lands. Ranchers are worried that grazing will be restricted; some have sold their grazing permits to environmental groups in anticipation of that outcome.

Back to List

 

Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada

Map of Gold Butte
Status
Interior Secretary Zinke officially recommends downsizing the nearly 300,000-acre monument “to ensure that the monument reservation is limited to the smallest area compatible with the protection of the objects identified and protect historic water rights.” (Dec. 5, 2017)
Boundary “should be revised… to protect historic water rights” (Sept. 17)
Size
296,937 acres
Size after proposed changes
Unspecified. Report recommends “boundary should be revised.” (Sept. 17)
Designated
December 2016
Designated by
Barack Obama
 

The reasoning behind establishing this monument echoes that of several other southwestern monuments: protection of rock art, Native American resources, wildlife, and sweeping vistas. But Gold Butte’s land near Las Vegas has a special resonance — it was here in 2014 that the rancher Cliven Bundy’s defiance of federal rules and his refusal to pay fees for cattle grazing led to an armed standoff between the Bureau of Land Management’s enforcement apparatus and the rancher, his family, and assorted armed militiamen. The Bundys had defied the federal government for years and his actions in Nevada, like his son’s in Oregon, won fierce support among antigovernment activists. The monument will still allow grazing — supervised and paid for — but among the local objections, a small town argues that the monument interferes with a local water district’s ability to get an assured supply. The Interior Department’s site for the monument says that visitors can “hike to rock art sites, drive … to the area’s namesake mining ghost town, hunt desert bighorn sheep, or tour the area’s peaks and canyons on horseback.”

Back to List

 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Map of Grand Staircase-Escalante
Status
Presidential proclamation ordering that the monument “exclude from its designation and reservation approximately 861,974 acres of land that I find are no longer necessary for the proper care and management of the objects to be protected within the monument…” (Dec. 4, 2017)
Size
1.87 million acres
Size after proposed changes
Roughly 1 million acres (Dec. 2017)
Designated
1996
Designated by
William Clinton
 

Critics, mostly in Utah, had objected to the 1996 declaration of the monument for many reasons, including a strong assertion of state sovereignty over its lands. But the desire to open the Kaiparowits Plateau’s coal seams, containing an estimated 30 billion tons of mineable coal, is also a powerful motive. More than 40 years ago, a plan to build a 3,000-megawatt coal-fired electric generating plant on the plateau was abandoned by three utilities — two in southern California, one in Arizona. Getting the coal to market from the remote plateau has always been a stumbling block to commercial development.

…& the Best

More on this topic

BLM speeds ahead on Grand Staircase-Escalante High Country News  (Feb. 27, 2018)

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Policy Changes Recommended

Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks, New Mexico

Map of Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks, New Mexico
Status
Report urges administration “assess risks to operational readiness of nearby military installations” and “assess border safety risks associated with Potrillos Mountain Complex.” (Sept. 17)
Size
496,300 acres
Size after proposed changes
N/A
Designated
2014
Designated by
Barack Obama
 

Back to List

 

Rio Grande del Norte, New Mexico

Map of Rio Grande del Norte, New Mexico
Status
Management Plan “should be revised”; Report references grazing as “a significant traditional use” that has been hampered by road closures. (Sept. 17)
Size
242,455 acres
Size after proposed changes
N/A
Designated
2013
Designated by
Barack Obama
 

Back to List

 

Monuments Reviewed with No Changes Indicated

Basin and Range National Monument, Nevada

Map of Basin and Range
Status
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)
Size
704,000 acres
Designated
July 2015
Designated by
Barack Obama
 

Long advocated by former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, the monument is roughly the size of Rhode Island, sits north of Las Vegas and takes in everything from ancient rock art to arid angular mountains to “City” a collection of abstract sculptures that the artist Michael Heizer took four decades to assemble; it is the size of the national mall in Washington. The anger of local opponents, who felt cut out of the decision and restricted in their future economic development, was voiced by Republican Senator Dean Heller before the monument’s designation. He told E&E News: “an inclusive approach where local parties affected by the designation have a seat at the table to voice their opinion.” He added,”These are the stakeholders most affected by any federal action on this matter.”

Back to List

Giant Sequoia National Monument, California

Panorama from an overlook on California State Route 180 near the southwestern edge of Giant Sequoia National Monument Famartin via Wikimedia Commons

Map of Giant Sequoia
Status
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)
Size
328,315 acres
Designated
April 2000
Designated by
William Clinton
 

The monument, which abuts Sequoia National Park, contains 33 groves of redwoods, the towering trees that got the attention of the world when settlers first saw them in the 19th century. The groves, with names like Indian Basin, Burro Creek, Starvation Complex and Upper Tule, are now surrounded by an undergrowth of smaller trees, millions of which have died thanks to drought and beetle infestations. Some members of the supervisors’ boards in Kern and Tulare Counties want the freedom to allow logging in these areas, though it is not clear who could find profit in the beetle-gnawed trees. And recently, the governing boards in those two counties came to different decisions on whether to send letters opposing the monument Local citizens also held rallies supporting it.

Back to List

Mojave Trails National Monument, California

Map of Mojave Trails
Status:
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)
Size
1.6 million acres
Size after proposed changes
No changes indicated. Rep. Paul Cook had recommended a 500,000-acre reduction.
Designated
2016
Designated by
Barack Obama
 

Discussions about the future of this monument almost always include the word “Cadiz,” for two reasons. First, it is the name given to a spectacular group of sand dunes at the at the heart of the monument, which surrounds historic Route 66. Second, it is the name of a company, Cadiz Inc., that has proposed a water pumping, storage and delivery project near the dunes. The project envisions a 43-mile-long pipeline from a groundwater pumping station to the Colorado River aqueduct. From there, the water could flow to customers in southern California. The Cadiz project was supported in March by the local Republican congressman, Paul Cook. In June, he supported cutting 500,000 acres surrounding the pipeline route from the monument.

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Papahanaumokuakea National Monument, Hawaii

Map of Papahanaumokuakea National Monument
Status
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)
Size
89.5 million acres (2006);
372 million acres (2016)
Designated
2006
Designated by
George W. Bush
Enlarged
2016
Enlarged by
Barack Obama
 

Back to List

 

 

Read Next in …& the West

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Gretchen King

Responding to Tracking Proposed National Monument Reductions in the West

Those interested in reading more about Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument and how the BLM isn’t waiting for the courts to rule on monument boundaries to start planning should visit: https://www.hcn.org/articles/blm-speeds-ahead-on-grand-staircase-escalante-plans High Country News has covered the many aspects of these monument reductions. See http://hcn.org/topics/monuments for our most recent coverage

3/7/2018, 10:18am

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Staff and Contributors

Felicity Barringer

Lead writer

A national environmental correspondent during the last decade of her 28 years at The New York Times, Felicity provided an in-depth look at the adoption of AB 32, California’s landmark climate-change bill after covering state’s carbon reduction policies. MORE »

Geoff McGhee

Associate editor

Geoff McGhee specializes in interactive data visualization and multimedia storytelling. He is a veteran of the multimedia and infographics staffs at The New York Times, Le Monde and ABCNews.com. MORE »

Rani Chor

Editorial Assistant

Rani Chor is the & the West editorial assistant for winter 2024. She has worked as the university news desk editor and public safety beat reporter for the Stanford Daily.

‘& the West’ is published by the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, which is dedicated to research, teaching, and journalism about the past, present, and future of the North American West.

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