The Trump administration has been gearing up for a major review of the country’s national monuments for some time now, and the expectation was that plenty of them would be eliminated and opened up to mining, drilling, and deforestation.
Well, we’ve got some fantastic news for you: against all odds, the government will officially announce later today that none of the 27 national monuments under review will be eliminated. There will be changes to a “handful”, according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, but at present it’s not quite clear what that means – perhaps boundary changes on a small scale.
A statement released by Zinke, viewable here, reveals that after much consideration, all 27 National Monuments were considered to be sufficiently "unique" enough to maintain their status.
In any case, this is a surprise decision.
Arguments about federal overreach in the Obama and Clinton eras – which oversaw the creation of many new national monuments – were sometimes meekly given by government officials, the primary reason that eliminations were expected were opportunistic economic ones. Land, when given back to the state it's in, could be sold off to private developers, where it could be used for whatever purpose they deemed necessary.
Although it cannot be confirmed at this time, it appears that the administration has bowed to the pressure of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as millions of Americans, who didn’t wish to see the country’s natural beauty tarnished for the sake of short-term monetary gain.
Back in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Antiquities Act. Among other things, this allows the commander-in-chief to declare any terrestrial or marine area owned by the US as a place of historic, archaeological, or scientific interest. If a region gained this honor, it would be protected from any private development.
Although some former presidents have slightly shrunk the size of certain monuments, including Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, no President in the Act’s 111-year-long history has ever eliminated any. It was expected that Trump would be the first to do so, but curiously, and thankfully, he hasn’t.
This means that the flowering, viridian Carrizo Plain National Monument in California, the forested Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, or the truly massive, sand-swept Mojave Trails National Monument will almost certainly remain as they are.
Zinke, who has long thought that this type of federal land should be sold off to private investors, told reporters that this wouldn’t happen. He also said that tribal interests, particularly in New Mexico, will be protected.
So, for now, America’s National Monuments are safe. This is a huge victory for conservationists, and the American public as a whole. The one thing to watch out for are those hinted-at boundary changes. It’s more likely than not, based on Trump’s proclivities, that he will shrink the Obama-era monuments, like Bears Ears in Utah.
[H/T: Associated Press]