California's Sand to Snow National Monument is among those monuments being reviewed by the Trump administration.
Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).
At midnight on July 10, the Interior Department ended its public comment period for national monuments designated since the year 1996, the first phase of a Trump administration-led campaign to reduce public land protections. Pro-public lands groups estimate that over 2.7 million comments have been submitted in favor of keeping monuments intact, making this one of the largest comment periods in the Department of the Interior's history thanks to you.
But there is ample reason for concern. Secretary Zinke has already recommended shrinking Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, despite indications that comments showed nearly unanimous support for keeping Bears Ears and all of our national monuments intact.
Zinke will deliver his final recommendation for Bears Ears, along with his recommendations for the 26 other monuments, on Aug 24. The secretary has already indicated that he won't recommend changes to some of the monuments, but we don’t expect a miraculous reprieve for the others. It is highly likely the Trump administration will attempt to remove protections for everything from millenia-old archaeological sites to wild, verdant forests, going against.
It’s not over yet. Here’s what happens next:
President Trump or Congress will act on Zinke's recommendations: Assuming Secretary Zinke recommends de-designating or shrinking various national monuments--a near certainty--either anti-public lands lawmakers will try to introduce legislation that acts on those recommendation, or the administration (that is, President Trump) could try to take the unprecedented and legally dubious action of de-designating them unilaterally.
We will pursue legal action: If President Trump tries to de-designate or shrink national monuments, we will see him in court. No president has ever acted to revoke an existing national monument and many legal experts, including 121 law professors who submitted a joint letter for this review, say a president doesn't have the authority to do so. Furthermore, multiple courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have repeatedly upheld that the authority to designate national monuments is broad, and includes protecting large landscapes—not just limited areas, as anti-public lands interests have claimed. So if Trump “only” tries to shrink monuments, he will still have to come through us first.
We will move to defend the Antiquities Act: The Antiquities Act has been used by Republican and Democratic presidents for over a century to preserve cultural and natural landmarks on land that is already federally managed. Trump’s review was intended to undermine it, a longtime goal of the anti-public lands fringe. He has now laid the legal groundwork for attacks on virtually any national monument in America, and potentially dealt a mortal wound to the law itself. It is more important than ever that we defend the Antiquities Act in the halls of Congress and beyond, so that future generations will still have this critical conservation tool.
Your role in defending national monuments
You already answered the call to speak out for Bears Ears and the 26 other monuments—thank you. You are part of a movement of millions of people who care about defending our national monuments. While we hope your thousands of comments will sway Secretary Zinke to make the right call with his recommendations, we can't bank on that.
We know that a loud and vocal movement will give lawmakers pause about acting on any anti-monument recommendations that do come out of the administration. In order to keep up the pressure, it will be vital to continue to speak up so that the administration and Congress cannot ignore the millions of people who will stand up to defend #OurWild. In the coming weeks we will be asking you to join us in reminding them about the comments we submitted—that de-designating or shrinking monuments, in addition to being wrong, would be an incredibly unpopular thing to do.
And again, if Trump takes executive action to attack monuments under Zinke's recommendation, we will see him in court. Stay tuned.