Secretary Zinke Shouldn’t Stop With Bears Ears
On Monday, the Department of Interior announced the interim recommendation of its review process of the Bears Ears National Monument. In a victory for opponents of federal overreach, Secretary Zinke recommended substantially shrinking the monument, noting “designating a monument that—including state land—encompasses almost 1.5 million acres where multiple-use management is hindered or prohibited is not the best use of the land and is not in accordance with the intention of the Antiquities Act.” He couldn’t be more correct, and Secretary Zinke should not stop with the Bears Ears Monument. For decades, the Antiquities Act has been abused to cover for federal overreach.
The Antiquities Act, passed in 1906, gives the president of the United States unilateral power to designate so-called national monuments to protect historic landmarks, structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest on federal land. The act also specifically notes that these monuments should be confined to the smallest possible area. But that limitation has repeatedly been ignored, with presidents using the pretext of “antiquities” to withdraw millions of acres of land and water from productive use.
Almost 20 years ago, the American Legislative Exchange Council passed a model resolution opposing national monument designations without local and state consent. The need for such consultation was only confirmed by the process that resulted in the Bear Ears designation of 1.5 million acres, a swath of land nearly the size of the state of Delaware. At the tail end of his administration last fall, President Obama unilaterally designated the Bears Ears Monument over the vocal opposition of the Governor of Utah, the state legislature and the local residents and officials of San Juan County, Utah. Such was the opposition that environmental groups had to bus in supporters to create the appearance of local support.
In recommending the reduction of the Bears Ears Monument, Secretary Zinke has it absolutely correct. There are indeed some areas of historical or archeologic interest within those 1.5 million acres. However, it is preposterous to claim that 1.5 million acres are needed to offer protection to those few sites. A much more modest designation, covering the just sites of interest, would serve to protect actual antiquities while allowing for the great majority of the land around these sites to continue to be available for productive use.
Pursuant to an executive order from President Trump, the Department of Interior is reviewing many more monument designations than just Bears Ears. As it proceeds with this review, the Department should not hesitate to rein in the excesses of previous presidents and free states and local communities from under the federal boot.