The national monuments ‘review’ is a sham

The Trump administration is using cynical politics, not sound policy.

 

I have been trying to find one good policy reason for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to go after national monuments, but the fact is, there are none. Zinke, a pro-energy Montanan who speciously claims to be a conservationist, is undertaking an unprecedented review of national monuments dedicated under the Antiquities Act at the behest of President Donald Trump. He will deliver his recommendations for shrinking or rescinding a hit-list of monuments on Aug. 24. 

But his review is a sham, and so is the presidential directive that ordered it. Here’s the reasoning the president gave in April for ordering the review: that monument designations can “create barriers to achieving energy independence, restrict public access to and use of Federal lands, burden State, tribal, and local governments, and otherwise curtail economic growth.” These are demonstrably untrue, so let’s look at them in order.

President Donald Trump displays his signature on an executive order to review monuments around the country. Secretary Ryan Zinke stands at left, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, second from right.

In terms of achieving energy independence, only a few monuments sit atop commercially recoverable hydrocarbon formations, and in most cases the lease-holders can continue to develop the energy deposits with or without a monument. That’s if they want to: Prices for coal, oil, uranium and natural gas are low enough that new drilling just doesn’t make financial sense in many of these places. A look at the most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency shows formations around the Four Corners, throughout Wyoming, and into far eastern Montana. These are broad maps, and different well sites will produce different results, but few of the monuments sit atop these plays. Those monuments that do overlap with extractive plays won’t make a difference. Despite Trump’s rhetoric, the U.S. is drilling, digging, sucking and pumping the heck out of the West already—so much so that prices for natural gas, oil, and coal are all relatively low, thanks to a glutted market. So there really is no energy-related reason that monuments should be messed with.

How about public access to land? Generally speaking, monuments allow a broad range of use and access, including careful grazing and logging, the use of motorized vehicles on designated roads, hunting and fishing, and access to inholdings. Expressly prohibited uses on monuments generally have to do with sale or leasing of land for mining and other extractive use, but are generally pretty open. Other prohibitions often include those against looting artifacts from public land—provisions few people would argue against. So Trump’s claim that monument status restricts access is false. 

And finally, there’s the notion that less protection will lead to more economic growth. This is easily disproven, as well. An analysis of 17 national monuments by Bozeman, Montana-based Headwaters Economics shows that the counties around monuments all continued to prosper after monument designation. Around Arizona’s Ironwood Forest National Monument, which was designated in 2000 to protect the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, jobs and income have continued to grow. From 2001 to 2015, in adjacent Pima County, real personal income grew 28 percent. Service jobs grew 25 percent, while non-service jobs decreased 21 percent, meaning the type of jobs changed, but overall economic health did not. Across four Idaho counties adjacent to Craters of the Moon National Monument, also designated in 2000, traditional jobs in agriculture, mining and timber held steady, even as per capita income went up 36 percent over the next 15 years. Similar changes and growth took place in other monument-adjacent counties, and while it’s hard to nail down causality, the fact remains that not a single county in the analysis suffered economic decline after a monument designation. The president’s claim that monuments “curtail economic growth” is also false.

So what’s behind the presidential order, if not policy? Good old-fashioned politics. Trump has no political experience, so he is easily lobbied. And it seems that one of the best lobbyists when it comes to Trump and monuments is Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. Hatch is a longtime senator who wields a great amount of power. He has been deeply offended by the “overbearing” designations of two monuments in his state, Grand Staircase-Escalante, designated by Bill Clinton in 1996, and Bears Ears, designated by Barack Obama at the end of his term, in December 2016. And he has the president’s ear. 

In declaring the review of monuments, Trump credited Hatch for his efforts. “He doesn’t give up,” Trump said at his announcement. “And he’s shocked that I’m doing it, but I’m doing it because it’s the right thing.” Trump said he was reviewing the monuments—arbitrarily back to 1996, the very year Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated—to “return control to the people, the people of Utah.” He signed the order (perhaps not realizing the federal public land has never belonged to the people of Utah exclusively, but to all of Americans), then gave Hatch the pen.

So it would seem that this monument review is not at all about practical policy—not for energy, or access, or economics. Instead, the review is transparent pandering to Trump’s new political allies and a cheap thrill for his Obama-hating base. What more would you expect from Trump, who prefers golf courses to grand vistas? Here’s hoping for less cynicism out of Zinke, who, as a Westerner, should know the inestimable value of our public lands.

Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • WRITING SKILLS TUTOR FOR HIRE!
    Fort Collins, CO college students welcome. Meet on your college campus!
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING DIRECTOR
    The Development and Marketing Director is a senior position responsible for the execution of all development and marketing strategies to raise funds and increase public...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Coordinates all Wyoming Wildlife Federation philanthropic activities. Tasks include identification, recruitment, and retention of donors, organizing fundraising events, and assisting with grant writing.
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • CORPORATE & GRANTS PARTNER MANAGER
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation Corporate Partnerships Manager February 2020 www.ForeverOurRivers.org Forever Our Rivers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in late 2016 with the mission...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year-round outdoor living. REDUCED to $999,000, 575-536-3109.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...