Donald Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke generated an uproar in the outdoor community when the White House announced Executive Order 13792, which directs the Department of the Interior (DOI) to review the designations of 27 different National Monuments. In kind with the strategies of the insurgent movement to privatize and sell off America's public lands, the order casts the process of national monument designations as often hasty land grabs that steal and lock away land from valuable use. As part of this process, the DOI has initiated a public comment period regarding the designation of national monuments under the Antiquities Act and many prominent voices in the outdoor industries are urging Americans to make their voices heard.
The reality of the process of monument designation sits in stark contrast to the administration's characterization of one during which care is not exercised and the public isn't given a chance to be heard. Designation is typically a multi-year endeavor that involves extensive study and coordination and consultation with local communities and elected representatives. Additionally, public opinion has been shown to be overwhelmingly in favor of monument designations and other measures to preserve and protect lands for public, recreational use. A recent poll revealed that 68 percent of voters in seven Western states said they prioritize the protection of public land, water and wildlife for recreation, while only 22 percent prioritize increased production of fossil fuels.
But the Trump administration has initiated an overall effort to shift the DOI's focus squarely to increasing fossil fuel development. Given such, Trump's order is concerned primarily with monument designations creating "barriers to achieving energy independence" or, put more accurately, preventing lands from being developed by oil, gas and mining operations.
Voices in the outdoor and sporting communities have been critical of the order's premise, often labeling it as false. In an open letter to Secretary Zinke, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario called the review "absurd" due in part to the ridiculously short, 120-day time period in which it is required to be completed. Chouinard and Marcario write, "As you know, the process to establish a National Monument often takes years, if not decades. It involves significant study of the area of the proposed monument—including its ecological, cultural, archeological, economic and recreation value—and robust consultation with local communities and their elected representatives at every level. Given the unique and complex histories of each monument, there is simply no way to meaningfully review dozens of individual monuments in such a short period."
Jennifer Rokala, Executive Director of the Center for Western Priorities, called Trump's executive order an "all-out assault on our national monuments and public lands." Trump, Rokala said, "made it clear that he will eliminate protections for some of America’s most spectacular lands, waters, and cultural sites, opening them up to drilling and mining." She added, “This action is an affront to America’s public lands legacy, the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy, and the millions of Americans who hunt, fish, hike, and camp in our national monuments. The president is setting himself up for years of legal trouble when he tries to erase protections that ensure public access to America’s lands and waters.”
Increasing concerns this past week were actions and comments by Zinke, who visited the embattled Bears Ears National Monument in Utah which, of late, has been at the center of the public lands debate. During his visit, Zinke devoted little time to local tribal leaders and others in favor of the Bears Ears designation. Instead, Zinke toured the monument with anti-public lands operatives including Utah congressman Rob Bishop. The visit led to cries from tribal leaders "asking for equal time." Further troubling public land supporters were comments from Zinke that suggested his agency's decisions may be pre-determined, including noting that he felt Bears Ears was "a little large" and that the area would still be public land "after the monument."
In a memo, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said Trump's actions have "set in motion a process that could directly impact the future management of 11.3 million acres of public lands and waters—places currently withdrawn from harmful development. Many monuments provide high quality hunting and angling opportunities and support important tracts of habitat that support robust fish and wildlife populations. Citizens have the opportunity to provide public comment during the review. Now is the time to make our voices heard on behalf of our wild public lands and waters, fish and wildlife, and hunting and angling traditions. The hard work by sportsmen and women to protect hunting and fishing in national monuments could be undone if we don’t speak up."
To that end, BHA has set up a portal to make commenting on the ongoing review of National Monuments a quick and easy process.