Trump’s Plan To Overhaul National Monuments Law Is All About ‘Righting Past Overreach’

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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When President Donald Trump speaks in Utah on Monday, he will not only be resizing two controversial national monuments, his administration will also be making major changes to how federal lands are managed.

Trump will sign orders to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments as recommended by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. However, that’s only the first step in the administration’s plan for the Antiquities Act.

In the coming months, the Department of the Interior (DOI) will begin a larger conversation about how the Antiquities Act of 1906 is implemented once the president designates a national monument, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.

The Interior Department will focus on “righting past overreach,” according to an official, by protecting national monuments in a manner that’s “consistent with the law.” The agency will also ensure lands properly cared for, and that critical infrastructure, like roads, bridges and trails, don’t fall into disrepair.


“Public lands should be for the enjoyment of everyone, not just special interests,” will be the Trump administration’s message in this effort. Going forward, Interior will make sure local voices are not drowned out by “large, well-funded NGOs and special interests,” the official said.

Trump officials have also been in contact with Congress about potential legislative fixes to problems identified in their months-long Antiquities Act review. Republicans have put forward legislation on the matter, but DOI has not made any specific recommendations to lawmakers.

Trump ordered Zinke to begin reviewing national monuments in April to look for abuses in past administrations’ implementation of the Antiquities Act. Most of the media coverage, however, has focused on the fate of the Bear Ears monument, which President Barack Obama designated shortly before leaving office in 2016.

The agency’s plan for national monuments will focus on six priorities: preserving traditional uses, public access, infrastructure, local consultation, tribal rights and protecting hunting and fishing rights.

The Antiquities Act allows the president to designate areas of federal lands as monuments, which changes how the lands are managed. The changes make it harder to do activities to conduct grazing, logging, mining, hunting, fishing, and other land uses.

Even if traditional uses are protected, those rights may erode over time as more permits are added to protect “objects of significance” under the Antiquities Act.

Bears Ears, for example, encompasses more than 1.3 million acres to protect Native American history sites and two buttes that look like the ears of a bear. It’s stunningly beautiful, but many Utah locals felt the process was driven by outside environmental activists and high-level tribal officials.

“This community would support a smaller monument,” Jami Bayless, president of the Stewards of San Juan County, told TheDCNF in 2016. “However, the proposed monument is bigger than the State of Delaware. Any visitor here can see that this a beautiful area that is already protected by numerous laws and by locals who love this area.”

Obama’s Bears Ears designation did allow for tribal members to continue to gather herbs and dead wood, but the Navajo living around the monument are skeptical this will last. President Bill Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument in 1996 and wood-collecting and grazing rights were limited.

Obama also designated some state lands as part of the Bears Ears monument, which conservatives further contend violates the Antiquities Act. Republicans claimed the designation eroded local access and will hurt rural Utah’s economy by limiting development.

“Utah has become ground zero for politically motivated national monument designations that are excessive in size and contemptuous of peoples’ livelihoods,” Utah Rep. Rob Bishop said in a statement issued on the news Trump would visit Utah.

“The President has stood against prior abuses of executive power and his administration has demonstrated a commitment to work in concert with local communities to protect unique public antiquities and objects the right way,” said Bishop, chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

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