The 1.5 million acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah should be reduced in size, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says.
The Trump administration is reviewing 27 national monuments, and Bears Ears is the first Zinke has flagged for adjustment. Against the wishes of Utah’s governor and its entire congressional delegation, on December 28, 2016, with less than a month left in office, President Barack Obama (D) used the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears and Nevada’s Gold Butte as national monuments, restricting how the lands could be used.
President Donald Trump (R) signed an executive order in April tasking Zinke with reviewing all the national monuments declared in the previous 21 years. Bears Ears could be the first to be reduced in size.
In a June 12 memorandum, Zinke said his review “shows that rather than designating an area encompassing almost 1.5 million acres as a national monument, it would have been more appropriate to identify and separate the areas that have significant objects to be protected to meet the purposes of the Act, including that the area reserved be limited to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects.”
Past presidents have downsized 20 national monuments and modified their management.
Destruction of Communities
Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) says the way Bears Ears National Monument and others were created shows the Antiquities Act of 1906 has been used as a political weapon against Western states.
“In 1996, President Bill Clinton, on the eve of an election, standing in Arizona, without having conferred with any elected official in Utah, designated more than one million acres of Utah the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument,” Ivory said.
Two summers ago, Garfield County, Utah, at the center of The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, declared an economic state of emergency, says Ivory.
“The impact of the monument is it has decimated the county’s timber industry, its mining industry, and its ranching industry,” said Ivory. “The commissioners and any public official on the ground will tell you today, 20 years on from the monument designation, the number one export from Garfield County is their children, and the same is true throughout the West.
“Just this summer, because of the monument designation and the hands-off policy of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, Garfield and adjacent counties are being decimated by catastrophic fires sweeping through the entire region,” Ivory said. “And this story plays out over and over again throughout the rural West.”
Obama Ignored Locals’ Pleas
Ivory says Bears Ears County commissioners, the state legislature, the governor, every member of the state’s congressional delegation, and the county officials in San Juan County unanimously said they opposed a national monument designation for the Bears Ears region. President Obama ignored their views.
“President Obama locked up nearly 1.5 million acres—that’s larger than a number of states in the East,” said Ivory. “Included in this sweet land grab was 109,000 acres of land owned by the schoolchildren of the state of Utah in trust, and 14,000 acres of private land. He just locked it up, swept it up like we have no Constitution.”
All About Control
Ivory says presidents like to declare national monuments as a transfer of power to Washington, DC.
“Political power has always been about land, and land has always been the fundamental basis for representation in Congress,” Ivory said. “Well, the more land locked up, the less proportionate power Western states have in Congress.
“As more and more land gets locked up, counties are dwindling and dying as people relocate,” said Ivory, “Right now, 90 percent of the people in Utah live on 1 percent of the land in the state because the rest is simply locked up with federal restrictions, controls, and withdrawals.”
Although what the Trump administration is trying to do is encouraging, the problems will remain until the national government starts living under its constitutional restrictions, Ivory says.
“Under the Antiquities Act, subsequent presidents can undo any positive actions Trump takes to reduce harms caused by national monument designations,” Ivory said. “Until we get back to the original understanding of the limited constitutional power of the federal government, under which it was only ever supposed to control a very limited amount of land, politicians will lock up land for power and votes.”
Public, but Not for the Public
The Antiquities Act makes it clear national monuments are government property, not the public’s in any real sense, says Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
“You do not own them; nobody owns them except the federal government,” said Arnold. “These lands are about as public as a public toilet: You can use them if you behave and if you don’t stay too long, and that’s it.
“If you think these lands are your lands, try pitching your tent somewhere without federal approval. You will quickly find out it’s not yours, it’s the government’s.”
That’s part of the unspoken truth nobody ever admits in print, says Arnold.
“It’s part of the propaganda of ‘Oh, we have to save this because it’s the public’s land,’ but it’s really not,” Arnold said. “You have no title or right to use ‘public’ land except at the pleasure of the U.S. government.
“A lot of national parks have fees, complete with toll booths,” Arnold said. “Drive through without paying, and see what happens to you. This is a huge fraud being perpetrated by environmental groups who reject private property.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.