On December 4, President Trump signed proclamations that reduce the size of two large, controversial national monuments located in southern Utah, setting off a legal battle over federal land management policy. Under the proclamation, Bears Ears National Monument, designated by President Barack Obama in December 2016, would be reduced by almost 85 percent, from 1.35 million acres to just over 200,000 acres. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated in 1996, would be reduced in size from 1.9 million acres to approximately 1 million acres. Impacted counties have continuously raised concerns that these designations would inhibit economic opportunity from mineral development, grazing and recreation.
The reductions in the size of these two monuments are the result of an executive order signed by President Trump in April 2017. The executive order directed the U.S. Department of the Interior to review 27 national monument designations and expansions greater than 100,000 acres signed by presidents since January 1996. Ten environmental groups have already announced their plans to sue the Trump administration to prevent the acreage reductions. Five local Native American tribes—Ute, Ute Mountain, Navajo, Hopi and Zuni—are expected to file lawsuits as well.
Presidents are accorded the authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect cultural sites, historic landmarks and objects of scientific significance that are under federal ownership. Presidents of both parties have used this authority to protect various sites, including birthplaces of historical figures and massive amounts of federal land. For example, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument in 1908. No previous president has entirely revoked a national monument designation, and the acreage reductions announced December 4 are by far the largest ever attempted.
While NACo has not taken a stance on these specific monument reductions, America’s counties support amending the Antiquities Act to provide for greater transparency and accountability, including requiring greater consultation with state, county and tribal governments before monuments are designated. The federal government should work to ensure special use designations, including monuments, are supported by local governments and affected stakeholders. On July 8, NACo submitted a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stating this policy and requesting that he consider comments from affected counties before making any final decisions on monument designations.