A Trump administration review of large national monuments has provoked public outcries and some acclaim from coast to coast, and it’s still in the opening days of a long struggle.
Within 24 hours of seeking public comment, the Interior Department received more than 1,700 responses, underscoring the high degree of interest. The first-of-its-kind public comment period started Thursday and runs through July 10.
Mike Bush, a resident of California’s San Luis Obispo County, worries about fewer protections for the Carrizo Plain. Theodore Langlois, a graduate research assistant at South Carolina’s Clemson University, warns of an “ultimate insult” to past presidents. An unnamed Eagle Scout from Washington state declares “strong support” for the Hanford Reach National Monument.
“If the parcels of land being claimed as national monuments are becoming too large, then let’s find an appropriate size limit in the future,” University of San Diego biology professor Kevin Curran suggests. “However, let us not redact or abolish a pre-existing monument.”
The Interior Department’s assessment of large national monuments established or expanded since 1996 focuses on 27 of them, all but one larger than 100,000 acres.
Nearly all the monuments under scrutiny are in Western states, including six in California, as well as the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho and Hanford Reach in Washington. Potentially, the review could lead to proposals to shrink or otherwise revise one or more of these monuments.
An April 26 executive order signed by President Donald Trump gives Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke 120 days to submit a final report with recommendations for further presidential or congressional action.
“Part of being a good steward is being a good neighbor and listening to the American people who we represent,” Zinke said in a statement, adding that “there is no predetermined outcome on any monument.”
A former Montana congressman, Zinke comes from a region where skepticism abounds over federal management of public lands. Many Western conservatives, in particular, have complained about presidents using their executive authority granted under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monuments.
Further pumping up the volume, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California on Friday urged her 207,438 Twitter followers to “express your support for our monuments.”
The unusual outpouring drove the national monument issue toward the top of the federal government’s regulatory docket, with initial public comments combining canned statements with more personal, heartfelt appeals.
“I have lived in this county for six years, visiting the (Carrizo Plain National) Monument every year, and camped this early April for a week with my wife,” wrote Bush, the San Luis Obispo County resident.
President Bill Clinton designated the 204,107-acre Carrizo Plain monument in January 2001, during his last week in office. Another of Clinton’s designations in California, the 327,760-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument, is also under review.
“The Giant Sequoia Monument closed thousands of acres that we used to enjoy,” one unnamed commenter said. “Cabins, mines, streams and trails, all closed off to people.”
Clinton also established the Hanford Reach National Monument and expanded Craters of the Moon.
Past presidents have reduced the sizes of previously established national monuments, but it remains an open legal question whether a president can remove national monument status altogether without congressional authorization.