President Donald Trump is ordering a review of the designations for more than two dozen national monuments, including ecologically rich marine preserves in the Pacific such as Papahanaumokuakea, Marianas Trench and the Pacific Remote Islands.
Through an executive order he is expected to sign Wednesday, Trump will instruct Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to engage in a sweeping review of many national monuments created by presidential proclamation since 1996.
In a Tuesday press briefing held at the White House and by telephone with reporters around the country, Zinke said he has been asked to evaluate the monuments created in the past 20 years that encompass more than 100,000 acres to see whether local communities should be given additional input into their scope and restrictions.
He said he would look specifically at monuments that have been made off-limits to what he called “traditional uses,” such as farming, ranching, timber harvesting, mining, oil and gas exploration, motorized recreation and fishing. An important criteria would be whether jobs were created or eliminated by the monuments, he said.
Zinke estimated 24-40 monuments were likely to come under review.
‘Not Afraid Of Lawsuits’
More than 50 monuments have been created by presidential proclamation since 1996, but some are very small, such the African Burial Ground in New York, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality monument in Washington, D.C., and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers monument in Ohio, which is the former home of Young, the first African-American to gain the title of colonel in the U.S. Army.
Zinke singled out several monuments in particular for review — Bears Ears in Utah, a 1.35-million-acre monument created by Obama on Dec. 28, Grand Staircase Escalante, also in Utah, and “the marine monuments.”
He said those that fall into what he called the “bookends” of the 20-year period, such as Grand Staircase, the earliest, and those that were designated most recently, by Obama, would be scrutinized.
Zinke said he will produce an initial report to the president within 45 days on which monuments deserve particular scrutiny, and a final report within 120 days.
He said he will meet with governors, congressional delegations, local elected officials, business interests and the public to see if they support the national monument designations in their areas and believe they were given a fair opportunity to participate in determining their size and scope.
“When you designate a monument, the local community should have a voice,” Zinke said, adding that the economic impact on miners, loggers and fishermen should be taken into account.
Zinke acknowledged that the decision to review the monuments would be controversial and could lead to legal challenges.
“I’m not afraid of lawsuits,” Zinke said. “I don’t think lawsuits should shape public policy … I won’t make judgments based on whether I’m being sued or not.”
Zinke To Visit Some Monuments
The reviews apply only to monuments created under the Antiquities Act of 1906, legislation originally championed by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. Under the act, a president can proclaim a national monument if an area has unique historic, scientific or environmental features. No public hearings are required.
Roosevelt established the first national monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, in September 1906. Since then, both Republican and Democratic presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have created national monuments, and there are 129 of them nationwide.
Zinke said he supports the use of the Antiquities Act, and that in general, the legislation has “done a great service to the public.” But he said that the limits on uses in some monuments have been too restrictive.
He said he intends to visit some of the monuments to help him make decisions about them.
One stop is likely to be Utah. Politicians in that state, where much of the land is under federal control, have long opposed creation of national monuments by presidential proclamation.
Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, a Republican who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, has called the Antiquities Act “evil” and said that people who like it “should die.” His spokesmen have since said that Bishop was speaking in jest, but it is fair to say he has very strong feelings on the topic.
But environmental advocates of national monuments feel as strongly about it as opponents do. And recreation-based businesses are lobbying hard to protect the designations, with some saying they would leave Utah if the state’s politicians persist in their efforts.
Expansion Was Controversial
The Papahanaumokuaakea marine preserve was created in 2006 by President George W. Bush. Environmentalists proposed and supported the fourfold expansion of the monument by President Obama, but the enlargement was opposed by the fishing industry, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council — a federal agency that oversees the industry — many state legislators and former governors George Ariyoshi and Ben Cayetano.
Since it was expanded, Wespac officials in Honolulu have said the action has hurt local fishermen. U.S. Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen of American Samoa has urged Trump to open the Pacific marine monuments to commercial fishing, saying that the restrictions have injured the economy and contributed to the shuttering of a tuna cannery there.
Hawaii Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa said Tuesday she personally opposed the expansion of Papahanuamokuakea, and that the expansion has continued to be controversial in Hawaii.
“It has divided our community,” Hanabusa said, adding that she is “not sure the science justifies” the creation of such large marine preserves. She said she believed a more thorough study should be done of the costs and benefits of enlarging them.
“We need to consider the economic impact,” she said. “I don’t know how you can argue against people having a voice.”
Hanabusa, who serves on the House Committee on Natural Resources, said she believes Zinke is personally committed to preserving public lands in federal ownership. She said she believed he would be fair in his inquiry about the impact of the creation of national monuments.
Schatz and Sen. Mazie Hirono, both of whom voted against Zinke’s confirmation as secretary of the interior, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Preservation advocates said Trump’s planned action was unprecedented.
“America’s national monuments have become the latest victims in this heated political atmosphere,” said Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive officer of the National Parks Conservation Association, in a statement. “Any attempt to undo or alter them isn’t just undermining a century-old law, it’s a betrayal of the people who fought so hard for them, and the land and history we’ve spent generations safeguarding.”
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at email@example.com.