During a press briefing held Wednesday, April 26, following the signing of the Antiquities Executive Order to review national monument designations, President Trump said that the previous administration had used a 100-year-old law known as the Antiquities Act (1906) to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control. He said these monument designations eliminated the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use the land.
The executive order was signed at the U.S. Department of Interior. On the eve of the signing of the order, Ryan Zinke, secretary of the Interior, said the order will direct him to review prior monument designations and to suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monuments.
“The monument designation period stretches from 1 January 1996 under which the act — and it has to include acts and monuments that are 100,000 acres or more,” Zinke said. “That should include about 24 to 40 monuments.”
Zinke said the order directs the Interior Department to provide a preliminary report within 45 days of the order and a final report in 120 days. The Secretary offered “as a kind of bookends of the review” as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (1996) to Bears Ears National Monument (2016).
According to Secretary Zinke, the executive order puts America back on track to manage federal lands in accordance with traditional multiple use as laid out by Gifford Pinchot, first chief of the U.S. Forest Service under President Theodore Roosevelt when the Antiquities Act became law in 1906. The current president’s directive asks the Department of the Interior to make recommendations whether a monument should be rescinded, resized, or modified “in order to better manage our federal lands.”
Here’s what the executive order does not do:
“The executive order does not loosen any environmental or conservation regulation on any land or marine area,” Zinke said. “It is a review of the last 20 years, and the review has timelines in which I am obligated to uphold.”
One local monument that falls within the timeline to be scrutinized is Tulare County’s Giant Sequoia National Monument. Its 328,000 acres were designated in 2000 by then outgoing president Bill Clinton. That designation has been often criticized for placing valuable timber tracts off limits to logging and grazing.
In a reaction to the president’s executive order issued Wednesday, High Country News published an opinion stating that whatever Secretary Zinke comes up with relative to Bears Ears National Monument, the designation does not grant the power to abolish or significantly diminish its 1,351,849 acres of protected land.
If President Trump wants to abolish or shrink the Bears Ears cultural landscape, the article stated, “he’ll either have to convince Congress to do it, or commit himself to a brutal legal battle against the local tribes that fought so hard to get the monument designated.”