CONSERVATISM MEANS TO CONSERVE: Why Trump Is Wrong To Reclassify National Monuments

Grand Staircase National Monument Utah Shutterstock/Johnny Adolphson

Craig Shirley President, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs
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President Donald Trump made it a rallying cry to go anti-government and anti-fed. He promised to be against those things during his campaign and he has, since then and time and time again, evoked the Swamp as the Big Bad Wolf of the United States.

Unfortunately, the national monument controversy seems to be playing right into the Swamp’s hands.

Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt, the president has the authority “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.”

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke believes that it is time to reduce up to ten monuments, including Bears Ears (designated as a national monument in 2016) and Grand Staircase-Escalante (designated in 1996) in Utah, as well as Rio Grande Del Norte (designated in 2013) in New Mexico.

The reasoning from Zinke — that less federal land means less federal government — is flawed.

Quite the opposite is true.

Reducing federal land in this case would make corporations slobber over their new found pickings. These lands would be at the mercy of extraction companies running amok.

Ronald Reagan, the Westerner, understood that conservatism also meant to conserve — our natural resources, our cherished lands, our natural treasures.

It is a myth to believe Reagan was a corporatist. In fact, he never trusted corporations and said so often, warning in 1975 that big corporations possessing too much power over the federal government. His warning still echoes loudly today. On signing the report of the Council on Environmental Quality in 1984, he said: “If we’ve learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.”

Reagan often quoted Robert Service, a big man and a Western poet, who often wrote about the beauty of the West.

Among both Democrats and Republicans, there is overwhelming support with keeping the national monuments. In fact, 90 percent of voters believe that more monuments are necessary, not less! To reduce them would be to reduce revenue to the states and reduce jobs by a significant amount. In Nevada alone, national monuments are responsible for over 14 billion dollars in revenue and nearly 150,000 jobs.

Corporations hardly ever have the working man in their best interest. Plenty of public land is available. The federal government owns about 640 million acres of land, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of the United States. 92 percent of that 640 million is in the Western states. 64 percent of Utah is owned by the federal government. You don’t need to take away actual Native American sacred and holy ground – such as Bears Ears — to expand any business or corporation. You wouldn’t close the nave of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to open up a business.

Upon laying the cornerstone of the monument commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill, Secretary of State Daniel Webster in 1825 bellowed: “Let it rise! Let it rise, till it meet the sun in his coming; let the earliest light of the morning gild it, and the parting day linger and play on its summit.”

If this was applied to a man-made piece of granite or stone, then it can certainly apply to nature itself. These monuments are more than just landscapes or places to gaze pretty sunsets, but essential parts of American history and American identity.

Craig Shirley is a New York Times bestselling author and presidential historian. He has written four books on President Ronald Reagan, as well as his latest book, “Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative,” about the early career of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, the 40th president’s alma mater.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.