Castle Mountains National Monument (California) was protected under the Antiquities Act, a bedrock conservation law under fire again.
Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).
In early October 2017, the House Natural Resources Committee passed a toxic piece of legislation that would radically cut down the scope of the Antiquities Act, effectively blocking new protections of national monument lands.
The proposal takes the far-reaching Trump administration review of lands protected under the Antiquities Act a step further by gutting the law itself. This would severely hamper the ability of future presidents to protect national monuments.
Rep. Bishop's H.R. 3990 exposes leaders disregarding hometown monument lands
The bill is bad news, and we are doing everything we can to stop it. If and when H.R. 3990 or a similar bill comes to a full House vote, we will need you to join us and pressure members of Congress to vote against it.
But for now, Rep. Rob Bishop's nascent monument-killing law serves as a litmus test for which politicians actually care about public lands.
It showed us that some leaders have lost touch with what matters to their constituents and the places they cherish in-district. Several members supported this destructive bill despite the fact that it either violates the spirit of their hometown national monument lands, or even threatens such places in the future. We need to hold these congressmen accountable for their bad votes and encourage them to rethink their positions in the future.
All photos: U.S. House of Representatives via Wikimedia Commons
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM)
Designated by President Obama in 2014, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument lies within the southern portion of Rep. Steve Pearce's home district, New Mexico's 2nd. It covers an array of dramatic wildlands ranging from juniper-dotted volcanic mountains to rugged box canyons and is home to a huge variety of wildlife and rare desert plants—all at risk due to development, off-road vehicle use and other threats if protections were reduced. It is already covered by the Trump administration's review of monuments and would surely be a target for retroactive changes by similarly ideologically inclined leaders if Bishop's bill ever became law.
In supporting Bishop's bill, Pearce could scarcely claim to be responding to a local anti-monument groundswell, either. Prior to Obama's action, monument status for Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks was supported by almost 3 out of 4 area residents and spearheaded by a range of local businesses (many of which have since protested Trump's executive order). Now, two-thirds of area residents oppose any reductions to the monument. Earlier this year, it was estimated that Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks has already injected as much as $34 million into the local economy, and it is held up as a shining success among monuments established during the Obama administration.
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO)
In remarks delivered before the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Scott Tipton highlighted that Coloradans value national monument lands. Indeed, Tipton himself co-signed a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke back in May that seemed to uphold that sentiment, asking that no changes be made to Colorado's Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
But after all that, Tipton went ahead and voted for Bishop's bill anyway. The congressman pointed to Chimney Rock National Monument as a 'good' use of the Antiquities Act in his own state, and the kind of monument that truly deserves protection. However, it's not clear a bill like Bishop's would make such a distinction. Both Canyons of the Ancients and Chimney Rock could be effectively rescinded by the bill and wouldn’t have qualified for protection under H.R. 3990's criteria, both because of their size and because their array of Ancient Puebloan ruins and striking landscapes might not qualify as 'antiquities.'
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
Browns Canyon National Monument, which was established along the east bank of the Arkansas River by President Obama in 2015, lies in Colorado's 5th congressional district. In addition to preserving a landscape that contains the most popular stretch of whitewater in North America and habitat for bighorn sheep, elk and more, national monument status may have helped boost the area's tourism numbers (some park staff say that official monument signage will draw even more visitors in the future).
That didn't stop the district's own congressman, Rep. Doug Lamborn, from supporting a bill that could erode that monument and end the possibility of creating similar economy-driving public lands in the future. The coup de grace: Claiming that Bishop's proposal would help give local voices a say, Lamborn falsely claimed he was not invited to public meetings prior to Browns Canyon's designation.
Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT)
Montana's at-large House member, Rep. Greg Gianforte, supported Bishop's anti-monument bill despite the fact that it would have arguably barred the use of the Antiquities Act to protect natural treasures in his state—places like Pompey's Pillar National Monument and Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, which could be subject to future revision under Bishop's terms. Protection of Upper Missouri River Breaks, which was included in the scope of Trump's monument review, is considered to have been a good thing by most Montanans, and 77 percent of voters in the state say they want to keep existing monument designations in place more generally. During the Trump administration's review, 24,000 Montanans submitted comments opposing changes to national monument lands. Simply put, Rep. Gianforte's support for H.R. 3990 runs counter to his own constituents' love of public lands.
This attachment to public lands goes beyond mere sentiment. Protected public lands, including national monuments, power Montana's outdoor recreation economy, which generates $7 billion in consumer spending annually. It is unclear why Gianforte would want to jeopardize such a powerful economic engine, especially when so many Montanans support places like the Upper Missouri River Breaks.
Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA)
Rep. Paul Cook's district in the California desert contains iconic public lands like Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains national monuments, and part of Sand to Snow National Monument (all three of which were included in the Trump administration's initial "review" of monuments). These lands preserve habitat for wildlife ranging from bighorn sheep to golden eagles; protect ancient fossil beds and Native American archaeological sites; and keep the area accessible for hiking, camping and more. Bishop's bill, supported by Rep. Cook, would have prevented the protection of these lands, and it threatens to drastically shrink or eliminate these monuments in the future.
Additionally, most of Death Valley National Park and part of Joshua Tree National Park—each protected under the Antiquities Act, like many of America's national parks, and each among America's most iconic and beloved public lands—fall inside Rep. Cook's district. Bishop's proposal would have made protecting either one impossible. Visitation to these parks contributed $108 million and $164 million to the local economy, respectively, in 2016.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ)
Among several renowned public lands in Rep. Paul Gosar's district, Arizona's 4th, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument was included in the initial scope of Trump's review, and has been targeted by extreme voices since the moment it was established in the year 2000. The monument covers more than 1 million acres of spectacular scenery ranging from desert to grassland to ponderosa pine forest, and is considered a great spot for backpacking and stargazing. Though given a reprieve from direct executive action by Secretary Zinke this summer, Grand Canyon-Parashant is the place most obviously at risk in Gosar's backyard if Bishop's bill becomes law.
However, immediately abutting Rep. Gosar's district to the east is perhaps the most recognizable landscape on earth, also protected under the Antiquities Act: Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon was the crux of some previous attacks on the Antiquities Act that falsely claimed it could not be used to give monument status to large landscapes (much as H.R. 3990 argues). If a proposal like Bishop's had been law in 1906, the Grand Canyon might not be preserved as it is today. Additionally, such a law could kill hopes of a proposed "Greater Grand Canyon" monument that would help protect the Grand Canyon watershed from the toxic consequences of uranium mining. Are we to believe that Rep. Gosar forgot about the Grand Canyon when he voted for H.R. 3990?