By significantly reducing the size of two gargantuan national monuments on federal land in Utah, President Donald Trump has begun to undo the decades-old mistreatment of rural Westerners by smug elites in faraway Washington.
In doing so, he has shown a respect for the rule of law that was conspicuously absent when President Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, and when President Barack Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument in 2016. Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, only objects of historic or scientific interest are to be protected “within the smallest area compatible with the protection of those objects.” In keeping with the letter and spirit of the law, the first national monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, was less than 1,200 acres.
Compare that size with Clinton’s Grand Staircase-Escalante designation, which covered 1.9 million acres or Obama’s Bear Ears designation, which came in at 1.35 million acres. A law originally intended to protect Native American artifacts from plunder was transformed into an instrument to create de facto wilderness areas, with severe restrictions on land use and public access. Instead of safeguarding sacred tribal sites and archeological treasures, the law has been stretched to include protecting World War II bombing craters, “biodiversity,” “view sheds” and “remoteness.”
What’s more, under the Wilderness Act of 1963, only Congress has the power create wilderness areas, not the White House through executive fiat. By circumventing Congress on the Wilderness Act, and through twisting the wording of the Antiquities Act beyond recognition, Presidents Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush tightened the grip of the federal administrative state over the lives of ordinary Americans.
Clinton’s actions in establishing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are instructive. The designation was made despite the objections of state and local officials in Utah, and without soliciting the views of people living in communities near the monument. Indeed, the only people consulted were environmentalists, who, like the Clinton administration, were eager to make the area’s abundant natural resources permanently off-limits to beneficial human use.
Now the Trump White House and the Department of Interior are reversing course. The administration is making sure that local communities have a voice by restoring traditional “multiple use” activities on these lands. This will make hard-pressed local communities more competitive by allowing grazing, logging, commercial fishing and, in some cases, mineral development.
The two monuments targeted will be substantially pared back. Clinton’s sprawling Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be cut in half, to about one million acres and divided into three separate monuments. Obama’s Bears Ears monument will have its size reduced from 1.35 million acres to roughly 220,000 acres and will be split up into two sites. The smaller size of both monuments and the lifting of access restrictions will enable Interior Department personnel to carry out long-overdue infrastructure improvements on the sites, including upgrading public restrooms, visitors’ centers and trails.
“Some people think the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a handful of very distant bureaucrats in Washington. And guess what? They’re wrong,” Trump to a gathering in Salt Lake City on Dec. 4. “The families of communities of Utah know and love this land the best and you know best how to take care of this land.”
With this spirit in mind, it’s time for the Trump White and Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department to right the wrongs at other national monuments around the country, including the Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico, Cascade Siskiyou in Oregon and California, Basin and Range in Nevada and castle Mountains in California.
The administration is going down the right path, and we eagerly await their next steps.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). Martha Boneta is a policy advisor with America First Policies and is a farmer at Liberty Farm in Paris, Virginia.
Martha Boneta is a policy adviser with America First Policies. She is a farmer at Liberty Farm in Paris, Virginia. The native Virginian was also voted by Country Woman Magazine as one of the “45 Most Amazing Women in America.”
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.