The Trump Administration Wants To Shrink Even More National Monuments

One day after President Trump ordered an unprecedented reduction of a pair of national monuments in Utah, his administration announced plans to modify a slew of other protected wildlands scattered across the country.

The Interior Department recommended on Tuesday shrinking Gold Butte National Monument, a nearly 300,000-acre site in Nevada, and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which spans just over 100,000 acres on the California–Oregon border. The department did not describe the new boundaries in its report, but repeatedly mentioned confining monuments to the “smallest area compatible” — a phrase that comes from the law allowing presidents to set aside land without congressional approval.

The announcement comes just a day after Trump ordered a dramatic reduction of two national monuments, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears, in southern Utah. The order was met with protests and lawsuits from conservation groups.

Western conservatives, meanwhile, praised the reductions, saying they would be a boon to the local economy.

Tuesday’s report also recommends changes to:

  • Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine
  • Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England
  • Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte national monuments in New Mexico
  • Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean

Of those monuments, only the recommendations for Rose Atoll and Pacific Remote Islands mention the possibility of boundary revisions. The exact changes in store for the others go largely unspecified, but they may include “prioritizing public access,” infrastructure upgrades, timber management, and fishery management.

The Interior Department also is proposing three new monuments, including a 130,000-acre section of the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana — the home state of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

The potential for reductions to Gold Butte is especially significant because it includes an area of southern Nevada that the Bundy family previously used to graze cattle. In 2014, family patriarch Cliven Bundy led an armed standoff against federal agents, turning the region into a flashpoint in a long-running controversy over how to use vast swaths of public land. 

Many Western conservatives, including the Bundys, have argued for decades that national monuments bring economy-busting regulations and the federal government is ill-suited to manage the land. But conservationists have argued that fragile ecosystems and historic sites need the protection afforded by national monument designations, which they also say allow recreation-based industries to thrive.

The proposed modifications mostly target monuments designated during the presidencies of Trump’s Democratic predecessors.

President Obama created Bears Ears, Gold Butte, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Katahdin Woods and Waters, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, and Rio Grande Del Norte. President Clinton created Grand Staircase-Escalante and Cascade-Siskiyou, which was also expanded by Obama.

President George W. Bush created the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll national marine monuments.

Though the exact changes to the monuments remain unknown, lawmakers in the West condemned possible alterations Tuesday. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, told BuzzFeed News in an email that “this move is a monumental mistake.”

“The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is a unique and special place, unlike anywhere else in the United States,” he said. “The Trump administration is ignoring the voices of thousands of Oregonians who have spoken out in favor of the monument, and is recklessly risking the future of irreplaceable biodiversity and natural wonder.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, also an Oregon Democrat, similarly condemned changes to his state’s monument, telling BuzzFeed News in an email that “this is not what the majority of Oregonians signed up for when they spoke out in favor of expanding protections for this Oregon treasure.”

“These public lands belong to all Oregonians and all Americans, not to corporations or Trump’s department heads,” Wyden continued. “The fight will continue to end this spiteful campaign to stop American families from having access to the lands they know and love.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, said in a statement that the recommended changes threaten “over a century of environmental protections guaranteed by the Antiquities Act.”

“An attack on one of our monuments is an attack on all of them,” she continued. “I will stand with Nevadans to protect our public lands so that our children and future generations can continue to hike, hunt, and explore our beautiful public lands.”

The condemnations from Oregon and Nevada senators stand in stark contrast to Utah, where the entire congressional delegation long opposed recent monument designations and actively lobbied for their abolition. Trump won plaudits from Utah lawmakers when he shrank Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante Monday.

On Tuesday, Trump did win praise from Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican who called the recommended changes “welcome news,” adding that “public lands are for public use.”

“I believe that modest changes to Gold Butte will restore the public voice and will allow for critical public access for water rights and infrastructure,” Heller added in a statement.

On the other hand, conservationists slammed the Trump administration Tuesday. Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said the Trump administration continues to prioritize private interests and industry profits over our public lands and natural heritage.”

“We will fight any attempt to strip away protections for these vital places,” Clark added.

The National Parks Conservation Association said in a statement that the revisions to the monuments would allow activities like timber harvesting and commercial fishing, and argued that the changes are illegal.

Randi Spivak, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, called shrinking national monuments “disgraceful.”

“Zinke is deluding himself if he thinks the public wants him to plunder national monuments,” Spivak said.