With the stroke of a pen, on December 28, 2016, in the waning days of his presidency, Barack Obama designated two new national monuments, preventing a variety of uses on 1.65 million acres of land in Nevada and Utah.
Using authority granted the President under the 1906 Antiquities Act, Obama created the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the 300,000 acre Gold Butte National Monument in Northern Nevada. This action brings the number of national monuments created or expanded by President Obama to 27, more than any other president in history. A national monument designation prevents a variety of uses on the land including energy development, mining, and sometimes fishing and hunting.
As with a number of his previous national monument designations, in creating the Utah and Nevada monuments President Obama ignored the wishes of many of the people in, and elected representatives of, the states containing the monuments.
Utah Legislators to Fight Monuments
Utah’s entire congressional delegation, its governor, and the state’s legislature all opposed the Bears Ears designation.
During a live Facebook townhall discussion on December 13, Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R) said, “I want to make clear, if heaven forbid this does happen, I will work tirelessly with the incoming Trump administration to make sure that this national monument never gets off the ground; to make sure it is undone, that is defunded, unwritten, rewritten, repealed, whatever it is that we have to do to undo it.”
Just before Christmas, Lee, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), and other elected officials held a public event at Utah’s state Capitol to oppose the monument designation. Previously the Utah senators had introduced legislation seeking to exempt their state from unilateral national monument designations by any President, as had been done previously for Wyoming and Alaska.
In a statement blasting the monument designation as an abuse of power, Hatch indicated his support for President-elect Trump’s nominee, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) for Secretary of the Interior, could hinge on Zinke’s support for overturning the Bears Ears monument designation.
“With this astonishing and egregious abuse of executive power, President Obama has shown that far-left special interest groups matter more to him than the people who have lived on and cared for Utah’s lands for generations,” said Hatch in his statement. “For Utahns in general, and for those in San Juan County in particular, this is an affront of epic proportions and an attack on an entire way of life.”
Hatch also indicated Zinke’s support for reversing the designation will “largely determine my support for his confirmation.”
Nevada’s Heller ‘Terribly Disappointed’
Like the Utah delegation, Nevada Republicans, including Sen. Dean Heller, Rep. Cresent Hardy, and Rep. Mark Amodei all opposed Obama’s designation of the Gold Butte area as a national monument in Nevada.
“I am terribly disappointed with today’s news,” Heller said in a statement. “For years, I have urged for all new land designations, especially ones in Nevada, to be considered in an open and public congressional process [including] input from local parties, guarante[ing] local needs are addressed. In the future, I will continue to fight for an open process utilizing congressional support to designate new national monuments.”
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.