National Monuments

Trump Just Made Two National Monuments Smaller. How Big a Deal Is That?

The feds still own the land.

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BearsEarsDavidCraneDreamstime
David Crane/Dreamstime

President Donald Trump issued proclamations yesterday reducing the sizes of two national monuments in southern Utah. Bears Ears is being shrunk from 1.35 million acres to just over 200,000; Grand Staircase/Escalante is being brought down from 1.7 million acres to 1 million.

President Barack Obama proclaimed the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument just three weeks before the end of his administration, and President Bill Clinton similarly created the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument in 1996. In both cases, many local Utahns and their representatives in Congress fiercely opposed the changes, arguing that the designations would bar their access to the mineral, timber, and grazing resources needed to support their communities. Earlier this year, the state legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution urging the president "to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument designation."

"The goal of the designations had been to convert multiple-use public lands into de facto national parks and wilderness areas, preventing traditional uses such as recreation, grazing, and any other economic uses of natural resources," says R.J. Smith, a senior fellow at the D.C.-based National Center for Public Policy Research. "It usurped the authority of Congress to designate parks and wildernesses, and it disenfranchised the people of the affected states—especially those in rural counties and communities. Worse, it accelerated the War on the West—destroying the economic well-being of much of rural America while undermining the tax base of county and small town governments and turning thriving communities into ghost towns."

"National monuments are largely recognized as a stepping stone on the way to the creation of new national parks – a stepping stone that Utahns are all too familiar with," adds Matt Anderson, director of the Coalition for Self-Government in the West project at the Salt Lake City–based Sutherland Institute. "Four out of Utah's five national parks began as national monuments. Once a national park is created, hunting, ATV riding, rock collecting, and a host of other recreational opportunities are prohibited."

According the management plan, the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument would not affect existing oil, gas, and mining operations, but it would prohibit new mineral leases, mining claims, prospecting or exploration activities, and oil, gas, and geothermal leases. In addition, its creation would not affect the State of Utah's jurisdiction over fish and wildlife management, including hunting and fishing. Livestock grazing would be allowed continue within the monument lands.

Back in 1997, shortly after Clinton established the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, the Utah State Geological Survey estimated that coal deposits within the affected area could be worth as much as $312 billion when the real price of coal was $30 per ton. Although the demand for coal in the United States as fallen in recent years, coal from the nearby Uinta Basin region is now at $60 per ton. Bear Ears, on the other hand, does not seem to hold significant energy development potential.

Does Trump's reduction really return management of the lands withdrawn from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase/Escalante to local control? Not really. Both proclamations essentially restore control to the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The main change is that those federal agencies would now have the power to approve greater economic development of natural resources in those regions.

Utah's state House of Representatives passed a resolution this year urging that the state try to buy the Bears Ears National Monument from the federal government and manage it itself. But it is politically unlikely that the federal government will sell the tens of millions of acres that it manages. So what else might be done to increase local control and stewardship?

There have been several innovative proposals for how to give local people greater say in how federal lands are managed. When he was a congressman, for example, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke voted for the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act, which would transfer management of millions of acres of federal land to a board appointed by state governors.

The Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act resembles Cato Institute senior fellow Randal O'Toole's proposal to turn federal lands into fiduciary trusts. Once established, the trustees would be responsible for preserving and protecting the value of the resources they manage, keeping them productive, and disclosing the full costs and benefits of their management. Another idea for improving the management of federal lands is the creation of charter forests. Robert Nelson, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, suggests that "charter forests would be freed from the centralized administration of the Forest Service, and management would be devolved to individual autonomous forests capable of more creative and locally responsive management."

Shrinking two national monuments has not really restored local control. The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service remain as distant was ever.

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  1. You know who is NOT going to make my national monument smaller?

    1. Can’t be Trump. His hands wouldn’t fit.

      1. Amen. He does not have enough hands to cover my national monument.

        1. But if he wanted to try, you’d be totally down with it.

          1. I’m not into dudes. Just stating a fact.

            Women say “keep you hands off my vagina”. I say “keep your male hands off my national monument”.

            1. You should probably polish up that quip a little more.

              1. Naw, its fine. You and Citizen’s comments are super easy to flick off like dandruff on your mom’s shoulders.

    2. Rick Moranis in “Honey, there was nothing to shrink”?

  2. If I were a president, I’d declare all of California a national monument 30 minutes before leaving office.

    1. A monument to what? Stupidity?

    2. Me too as well add NYC and Chicago to the list. So all these liberals screaming their heads off about “land for the public that we all own” right now will know what it is like when some latte sipping hipster from 2000 miles away thinks they should own someone elses backyard.

  3. Sexual assault roundup, lunchtime edition.

    Dustin Hoffman accused of sexual assault, John Oliver not having it.

    John Oliver to be accused in 3…2…

    1. Damn, that was a good adaptation of Death of A Salesman as well. Luckily no one will every accuse John Malkovich of impropriety. At least, no one who will ever be heard from again.

      1. Malkovich only rapes minds, which as far as I’m aware is still mostly legal. ^_-

    2. I’m going home now. I apologize for what I said and I hope you can forget it but I’m going home now.

  4. “President Barack Obama proclaimed the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument just three weeks before the end of his administration, and President Bill Clinton similarly created the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument in 1996.”

    Shoulda’ closed them entirely.

  5. “In both cases, many local Utahns and their representatives in Congress fiercely opposed the changes, arguing that the designations would bar their access to the mineral, timber, and grazing resources needed to support their communities.”

    The purpose of the Park Service, the BLM, etc. is to protect industry from the general public as much as it is to protect our natural resources from industry. What else should you expect in a pluralistic democracy?

    Conservation without compromise can only be accomplished through private property.

    National parks do the exact opposite of what’s advertised. You want to conserve something? Zion National Park is trying to close itself off on a reservation only basis–because the army of tourists is destroying the park. They’ve already cut off all road access–except for the highway that takes you to the park. Once you get there, you have to take a shuttle or walk.

    When you make something a national park, suddenly millions of tourists go there who never would have come otherwise.

    Creating a new park practically guarantees the area will be destroyed by future generations. Yosemite is being destroyed by tourists, but they can’t shut off the number of tourists because there are so many people with a financial interest in keeping the park open to as many tourists as possible–and no one owns the park’s resources that are being destroyed.

    If Ansel Adams were alive today, he’d curse the day he took up photography.

    1. “Zion National Park considers reservation system for entry”

      —-Las Vegas Review Journal

      https://tinyurl.com/y9v2ffvw

      1. The password is “Shibboleth.”

    2. Yellowstone had a small road around the outside of it, with five or six visitors’ centers. Most of the park is never visited by anyone. It’s hardly being “destroyed”. The point of a national park is to allow people to visit.

      1. And besides, who really gives a fuck about Yellowstone given that it’s literally going to kill most of North America at some point. I mean, what, do we think the Mountain-God will show us mercy if we take care of it’s *tree’s and animals.

        *these will also be incinerated without mercy

      2. Most of Yellowstone is simply inaccessible to visitors because most of it is back-country, and back-country camping is very restricted.

        You basically have to backpack if you want to visit the Lamar Valley, or the Central Plateau.

    3. Arches is also considering a reservation system.

      I’m fairly certain that standard practice in newly designated national monuments is to build almost nothing.

      If a road, hiking trail, or designated campground already exists it might be maintained, but that’s about it, but the only new facilities will be entrance stations and visitors centers at the entrances.

      Environmentalists got pissed about Mission 66 and pretty much made it a mission to prevent future building in monuments and parks

      I’m actually surprised that talk of rebuilding the Sperry Chalet in Glacier, which was destroyed by a forest fire over the summer, is even being entertained. Though it would be rebuilt by private fundraising.

  6. Utah’s state House of Representatives passed a resolution this year urging that the state try to buy the Bears Ears National Monument from the federal government

    Did the federal government buy it from the State in the first place?

    1. I was going to ask this same question. I thought with the exception of military bases and D.C. the federal govt was not supposed to own land, especially large chunks or even the majority of some western states.

      1. Yeah, because the feds obey their own rules. Sure, that happens.

        1. I stated it more as a question, I am not sure if it is something that is/was really a rule, or just something I made up

          1. There is no such rule.

            1. In order to see if I was going crazy I had to look it up. I think I was thinking about this:

              The Congress shall have Power:

              To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.

              1. Yes, that’s one power Congress has. Another is:

                “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

                The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”

                When Congress decided to create and admit new States, it had the power to enact rules including that it would retain ownership of some of the land within those former territories as a condition of their admittance. There is no limitation in the Constitution that Congress may only retain ownership for ______ reasons just like there is no limitation in the Constitution as to what constitutes the “General Welfare” when Congress exercises its spending power.

                1. point noted. Although in my unschooled opinion on the General Welfare clause, while there may not be any firm definition of what general welfare actually is, I always thought it should be limited by the word “promote”, as in it doesn’t say “shall PROVIDE for the General Welfare. Then again they ignore the most obviously worded govt restrictions in favor of their own interpretations so I doubt my argument would hold any weight. Besides, arguing the semantics of laws often times ignores the whole point of laws to begin with.

    2. Did the federal government buy it from the State in the first place?

      No. Before the western states were created, the feds technically owned all of the then-unsettled land because it was a federal territory. When the states were being settled and created, the feds doled out land in too-small parcels to take into account the productiveness of the land for grazing or farming (which is what the majority of the settlers were using it for), so extremely arid states like Nevada and Utah wound up with the population and private lands clustered around the few high-yield areas, with the majority of the land left empty and still in the fed’s hands.

  7. You know who else didn’t like people who made their personal “monuments” smaller?

  8. No one knows how big an acre is anymore — we’re not farmers.
    Please use square miles, or hectares at least.

    1. 43,560 SF

      Every real estate developer knows.

      1. It’s easy to look up, but no one has a good idea of how big a million acres is. People use acres to make it sound bigger — the 30,000 acre fire in So Cal today for instance. Sounds scarier than 47 square miles. (Or maybe not.)


  9. In both cases, many local Utahns and their representatives in Congress fiercely opposed the changes, arguing that the designations would bar their access to the mineral, timber, and grazing resources needed to support their communities.

    Going for the Mormon vote, eh? Looks like someone’s already working on reelection. I guess Trump isn’t that afraid of impeachment effort #3, huh?

  10. Anybody analyzing in terms of whether this is a net gain in freedom? Unless I miss my guess, it is, so score another libertarian point for Trump.

    1. Another libertarian moment, brought to you by the God Emperor!

  11. Here’s an innovative proposal, just give the land to the state free of charge, it’s theirs, done.

  12. Shrinking two national monuments has not really restored local control. The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service remain as distant was ever.

    It opens the possibility of more local control.

    As a national monument, much local control was simply verboten.

  13. All monument and wilderness expansions should face an override vote by the states they are proposed to be in and until every state has the same percentage of wilderness area it’s a nonstarter in states burdened by unusable land. Ideally all the land is sold off but I’m not going to hold my breath.

    1. Oh it is sold off just not the way we think. Access is sold by Career politicians to connected cronies for campaign donations etc. Harry Reid made a fortune that way.

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