Interior Plan Could Halve National Monument Land Covered by Antiquities Act
Following a four-month review process, the Interior Department this week presented its recommendations to the White House for scaling back the amount of land designated as national monuments.
While the agency did not release the full report, the accompanying two-page summary hints at a significant reduction in the scope of land singled out for protection under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Officials have not released the full proposal, calling the report a draft version, and promising to release the full plan in coming weeks. In a statement released as the report was delivered to the White House, Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke said, “No president should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed.”
The Antiquities Act allows the President of the United States to set aside national monuments, but the Interior Department claims that the land set aside under the act goes beyond the “smallest area compatible” standard outlined in the law, which holds that presidents should reserve “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected."
The report’s summary also claims that the justifications for designations under the smallest area compatible “clause on some monuments were either arbitrary or likely politically motivated or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource management.”
Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former Interior Department official, told Bloomberg the group “is anticipating a recommendation that would at least halve the 233 million acres of national monument land and ocean area covered by the administration’s review.”
The Washington Post reported this week that the report includes recommendations to reduce the size of at least three national monuments, including Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, and Caskade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon.
Many Western Republicans have long been critical of the application of the Antiquities Act. PBS Newshour cites Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Land Council, as deeming the review a “breath of fresh air” that gives ranchers a seat at the table during the process of designating public lands.
The plan would mark the first time a president has reduced national park boundaries since John F. Kennedy’s presidency, with the interim period marked by the passage of 1976’s Federal Land Management and Policy Act, which reserves more power for Congress in determining public lands, a justification also cited by Interior’s report, which says, “It is Congress and not the President that has the authority to make protective land designations outside of the narrow scope of the Act, and only Congress retains the authority to enact designations such as national parks, wilderness, and national conservation and recreation areas. The executive power under the Act is not a substitute for a lack of congressional action on protective land designations.”
Posted in General News