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
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.