Hundreds of environmental, public interest, and civil rights groups are uniting to defend the Antiquities Act from actions by the Trump administration that could weaken protections for national monuments.
In a letter sent to President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Tuesday, the groups expressed concern that the Interior Department’s review of the designations will serve as a “pretense to advance efforts to undermine or strip protections for current national monuments.”
Trump signed an executive order last week that calls on the U.S. Department of the Interior to review all national monument designations made since January 1, 1996. Trump gave the agency 120 days to file a final report evaluating the two decades’ worth of national monument designations.
An interim report is due to the White House by late June, which is expected to include a recommendation on whether the Obama administration’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument should be modified or rescinded.
Overall, the review could open the door to revoking designations for millions of acres of land and waters that have been protected under the Antiquities Act.
At a Tuesday hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, titled “Examining the Consequences of Executive Branch Overreach of the Antiquities Act,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), chairman of the subcommittee, opened by stating that many national monument designations were made despite local opposition.
McClintock also called for acreage limitations on national monuments. The California lawmaker has co-sponsored 24 anti-public lands bills since 2011 as part of a larger effort by House Republicans to weaken protections of public lands, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
In his testimony at the hearing, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) stated that many residents who live near the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine opposed its designation. The controversial governor told the subcommittee that visitors will be so “uninspired” that they’ll want to see neighboring Baxter State Park.
But others have cited the economic impact of the designation. Sean Faircloth, chairman of the Bangor, Maine city council, argued that placing the monument designation on the 87,500-acre parcel would create “a tremendous economic boon.”
Last August, President Barack Obama issued an order designating the land as a national monument. A foundation started by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby donated the land to the National Park Service.
Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, testified at Tuesday’s hearing that the land his family donated to the federal government is culturally and historically significant to Native Americans. But he also emphasized that hunting and snowmobiling continue to be allowed in a large portion of the area Obama designated as a national monument.
The area already is experiencing an increase in visitation only eight months after the national monument designation, according to St. Clair. The region can have both a thriving tourism industry and a forest products industry, he said.
In a pre-hearing rally on Capitol Hill, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) said he hopes the Interior Department’s review will be “evidence-based.” The congressman also wants answers to whether a president has the power to rescind a national monument is addressed. “I am convinced that this president does not have the power to undo a designation,” Grijalva said.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Public Lands, noted that no president has ever unilaterally revoked a national monument designation. But Congress does have the authority to change boundaries and rescind a national monument designation, she added.
The more than 450 groups groups that signed the letter to Trump said they believe the Interior Department’s review will “undoubtedly show” that the national monuments “should be safeguarded in their current states for future generations.”