The environment is getting quite a hammering under the Trump administration, with them recently killing the Clean Power Plan and threatening to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Yet it seems that the rollbacks are not to stop there, as the President is poised to sign another executive order that will see the protection of more than 1 billion acres of public land and water put under review.
It is thought that the move will put at risk around 30 national monuments designated by Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Those that have made the list, according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose job it will be to review the lands, are those that are over 100,000 acres in size and created since 1996.
The 1906 Antiquities Act, introduced by President Teddy Roosevelt, allows any sitting president the ability to name any federal lands and water as a national monument. It has been used by presidents on both sides of the political divide, but Clinton and Obama in particular angered Republicans with how they used the power. On his own, Obama designated over 550 million acres as national monuments, including the Papahānaumokuākea monument off the coast of Hawaii, which at 1.5 million square kilometers (580 million square miles) is the largest contiguous fully protected conservation area in the US.
But it is the designation of vast swathes of desert and canyons in Utah that have particularly ruffled the Republicans' feathers. While Clinton created the Grand-Staircase-Escalante national monument, Obama set aside the Bears Ears national monument, in what many deemed unacceptable overreach. Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert and Senator Orrin Hatch both claim that the protections are putting too heavy a restriction on commercial exploitation of the land, mainly for oil and gas development.
The move has, unsurprisingly, angered many environmentalists, who see it as a direct assault on the land, wildlife, and cultures that have been present for thousands of years.
“This is a frightening step toward dismantling the protection of some of America’s most important and iconic places: our national parks and monuments,” says Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Trump’s tapping into the right-wing, anti-public-lands zealotry that will take us down a very dangerous path – a place where Americans no longer have control over public lands and corporations are left to mine, frack, clear-cut and bulldoze them into oblivion. It starts with Bears Ears and Grand Staircase and only gets worse from there.”
The review is expected to start with Bears Ears national monument, which Zinke will have 45 days to assess, before moving on to other monuments.