The Wilderness Society can provide background, commentary and photos on the Trump administration review of Bears Ears and other national monuments across the country. Our experts can also offer regional insights and historical context regarding the use of the Antiquities Act to protect America’s natural, cultural and scientific treasures.
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To: Reporters and Editors
From: The Wilderness Society
Date: May 25, 2017
Trump Attacks Antiquities Act, Undermining America’s Parks and National Monuments
The Antiquities Act is one of the nation’s most effective conservation laws. First used by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, it is currently under attack from the Trump Administration and anti-conservationists in Congress.
On April 26, President Trump signed an executive order that calls into question the validity of America’s parks and national monuments, focusing specifically on removing protections for Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. The order demands that the Department of the Interior review more than 20 additional monuments created by the Antiquities Act—by both Democrat and Republican presidents—since 1996.
Earlier this year on Capitol Hill, a was bill introduced in the U.S. Senate to effectively block the protections that the Antiquities Act bestows on deserving federal lands that have historic, cultural or natural significance.
“Trump once claimed to follow the example of Teddy Roosevelt, but he has long since shown his true colors as an anti-conservationist,” said Dan Hartinger, deputy director of parks and public lands defense at The Wilderness Society. “In signing this order, Trump is effectively saying that nothing is off the table, including the sacrifice of some of our most sacred parks and historic sites to pay back his fossil fuel-backed allies in Congress.”
Small Businesses Would Suffer from Monument Rollback
Rolling back monuments would have severe repercussions for America’s small business owners. “Mom-and-Pop” businesses have grown and thrived in the surrounding communities since the creation of monuments like Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Chimney Rock and Browns Canyon in Colorado, Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine. But many are now worried their businesses will be in jeopardy if a decision is made by the Trump Administration to shrink or rescind protections for Utah’s monuments.
“This Administration is playing political games with some of America’s hardest working people and biggest contributors to the $887 billion-dollar recreation economy in this country,” said Matt Keller, senior director of conservation with The Wilderness Society. “These mom and pop shops are making Main Streets strong and driving growth of rural communities. Yet Trump is trying every trick in the book to give gifts to his friends in the extractive industry, selling out our natural and cultural wonders for short term profit.”
Bipartisan History of the Antiquities Act
Since Congress gave the president authority to designate national monuments through executive action via the Antiquities Act of 1906, eight Republican and eight Democratic presidents have used that law to establish national monuments. The Antiquities Act allows presidents to protect national lands and waters already owned by the American people. Local collaboration and community input remain at the forefront of the monument designation process.
The monuments created by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama since 1996 include military monuments (World War II Valor in the Pacific, Fort Ord and Fort Monroe national monuments), monuments celebrating diversity and the civil rights movement (Birmingham Civil Rights, Freedom Riders national monuments), women’s rights (Belmont-Paul Women’s Rights) as well as places with natural and sacred significance for tribal nations (Bears Ears monument in Utah). Protecting monuments and parks that tell the stories of all Americans
The Antiquities Act was used to first protect nearly half of our national parks including the Grand Canyon, Acadia, Muir Woods and Olympic National Parks.
By blocking new monuments from being designated by the President, the bill would deny local communities seeking protection for vulnerable places historic and cultural significance.
Public Lands Have Been Targeted by Privatization Agenda Funded by Fossil Fuel Interests
To some members of Congress, the fight against these national monuments is a proxy for anti-federal government animus. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), among others, has asked President Trump to revoke or shrink Bears Ears National Monument in Utah which was designated as a monument by President Obama in 2016. Threatened by vandalism and understaffed for years, Bears Ears is a textbook case for monument designation under the Antiquities Act. Any steps to diminish it will double as de facto attacks on the law itself.
Now Bishop’s committee has expanded its agenda to restricting the ability of presidents to protect our oceans. During a House subcommittee hearing, anti-public lands lawmakers argued to greatly curb this vital tool for protecting habitat for endangered sea turtles, centuries-old corals and one of the world's rarest whales—the North Atlantic Right Whale.
Background on the Antiquities Act
Congress delegated authority to the president to establish, but not repeal, national monuments when passing the Antiquities Act in 1906. This means that monument proclamations are legally equivalent to laws passed by Congress and would require an act of Congress to repeal them – as with any other law. Legal opinions including an Attorney General’s opinion have found the President lacks the authority to revoke or eliminate a monument designated by a previous presidential action
Rather than attacks on public lands and waters, the nation needs more parks and monuments to protect our natural and cultural heritage and preserve historic sites. That would help meet demand for outdoor recreation and encourage young Americans to connect with the outdoors and history.
This law does not apply to private lands. While granting to the President the authority to take swift action to protect significant historic and natural areas, it preserves congressional authority to create monuments, re-designate monuments as national parks or remove the protection entirely.
Efforts to dismantle the Antiquities Act have been strongly opposed by veterans, businesses, Latino and African American groups, sportsmen and historic preservation advocates.
Protected public lands and historic sites provide fuel for local economies. The outdoor recreation adds $646 billion to the U.S. economy and supports more than six million jobs.
Michael Reinemer, Deputy Director, Wildland Communications, email@example.com, 202-429-3949, cell 703-966-9574
Dan Hartinger, National Monuments Campaign Manager, 202-429-3943, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org.