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Tracking Proposed National Monument Reductions in the West

Felicity Barringer and Geoff McGhee
Dec 11 2017

In mid August, President Trump’s Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, sent a report to the White House recommending modifications to some of the 27 national monuments that he was ordered to place under review. On September 17, the Washington Post obtained a copy. In early December, the administration released further details that would sharply cut back several monuments, most particularly the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah. Below, we have updated our breakdown of the status of affected monuments in the American West.

View from Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, including the sun, moon, Mount Shasta and Pilot Rock, captured May 3, 2015, from the Pacific Crest Trail

View from Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, including the sun, moon, Mount Shasta and Pilot Rock, captured May 3, 2015, from the Pacific Crest Trail. The Interior Secretary has recommended thart the boundaries of Cascade-Siskiyou be modified to reduce impacts on private lands and timber production. Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

By Felicity Barringer and Geoff McGhee

Status updates follow below.

President Barack Obama’s designation of a 1.3 million acre national monument at Bears Ears in southeastern Utah a year ago was a breathtaking affirmation of the value of the landscape, its archaeological resources and its connection to Native American history, memories and beliefs.

Some Utahns and all their congressional delegation opposed the the monument as a federal land grab. In a breathtaking reversal of the actions of Obama and President Clinton, President Trump just eliminated the protected status from 85 percent of the Bears Ears Monument and about half of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was created in 1996.

The result of this sweeping back-and-forth is ending in the federal courts, which can now rule, for the first time, on the 111-year-old Antiquities Act — the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican president and avid hunter who embodied conservation ideals.

The most notable element of the legal fight is the rise of a new player — the outdoor recreation industry, led by Patagonia — as a champion of conservation. It has joined five Native nations, land-conservation groups and archaeologists in one of the lawsuits arguing that nowhere in the Antiquities Act is a president granted the power to undo his predecessors’ monument decisions.

Two legal scholars, Todd Graziano and John Yoo, challenged that view in a formal paper and a newspaper op-ed, arguing “the authority to execute a discretionary power includes the authority to reverse it. No President (nor any Congress or Supreme Court) can permanently bind his or her successors in their exercise of the executive power.”

But, in the case of the Grand-Staircase Escalante Monument, the presidential designation was later confirmed in a law authorizing a 1998 land swap, praised five years ago by Michael O. Leavitt, former Utah governor and George W. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator. This swap could be a significant legal obstacle to the Trump administration’s efforts to overcome the legal challenges to the reduction in that monument. In the case of the Bears Ears Monument, the legal fight may focus on the difference between adjusting monument boundaries — which other presidents have done — and, essentially, blowing the monument up, leaving only two shards of the original protected area in place.

 

Boundary Modifications Recommended

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Map of Bears Ears

Map: Take a closer look at the area around Bears Ears National Monument »

Status
The President issued a proclamation “that the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument are hereby modified and reduced to those lands and interests in land owned or controlled by the Federal Government within the boundaries described on the accompanying map.” (Dec. 4, 2017)

Size
1.3 million acres

Size after proposed changes
201,876 acres in two smaller monuments (Dec. 4, 2017)

Designated
December 2016

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

In late December 2016, President Obama set aside 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument, angering state officials and the county officials in San Juan County, in Utah’s southeast corner. The designation of the land, which includes rich and vulnerable examples of buildings and rock art from prehistoric Native American cultures, prompted many articles pro and con, including some from local residents, which we published in the ‘…& the West’ blog.

In March, the Native American members of the new commission advising the Bears Ears’ management wrote Mr. Zinke a letter reiterating the monument’s value to them. But the land is also important to those who might graze cattle, mine uranium or drill for oil and natural gas. Since 2013, the Interior Department has rebuffed attempts to lease more than 100,000 drillable acres — all of it in or near the monument. Mining of “yellowcake” uranium in the area continues.

Back to List

 

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon and California

Map of Cascades-Siskiyou

Status
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke formally recommended revising the boundaries of the monument without specifying which areas may be excluded. (Dec. 5, 2017)

“Boundary should be revised... to reduce impacts on private lands and remove [Oregon and California] Lands to allow sustained-yield timber production...” (Sept. 2017)

Size
85,000 acres (2000)
133,000 acres (2017)

Size after proposed changes
Unspecified. Report recommends “boundary should be revised.” (Sept. 17)

Designated
June 2000

Designated by
William Clinton

Enlarged
January 2017

Enlarged by
Barack Obama

 

The original monument was designed to protect an area of biological diversity. In 2011, scientists urged expansion.

This did not sit well with the timber industry; this year’s expansion sent it, and the Oregon counties that depend on timber revenues, to court. They claim that the prohibitions against timber harvest fly in the face of a 1937 law encouraging timber harvesting to provide revenue for the rural counties that cannot get tax revenue from federal lands. Ranchers are worried that grazing will be restricted; some have sold their grazing permits to environmental groups in anticipation of that outcome.

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Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada

Map of Gold Butte

Status
Interior Secretary Zinke officially recommends downsizing the nearly 300,000-acre monument “to ensure that the monument reservation is limited to the smallest area compatible with the protection of the objects identified and protect historic water rights.” (Dec. 5, 2017)

Boundary “should be revised... to protect historic water rights” (Sept. 17)

Size
296,937 acres

Size after proposed changes
Unspecified. Report recommends “boundary should be revised.” (Sept. 17)

Designated
December 2016

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

The reasoning behind establishing this monument echoes that of several other southwestern monuments: protection of rock art, Native American resources, wildlife, and sweeping vistas. But Gold Butte’s land near Las Vegas has a special resonance — it was here in 2014 that the rancher Cliven Bundy’s defiance of federal rules and his refusal to pay fees for cattle grazing led to an armed standoff between the Bureau of Land Management’s enforcement apparatus and the rancher, his family, and assorted armed militiamen. The Bundys had defied the federal government for years and his actions in Nevada, like his son’s in Oregon, won fierce support among antigovernment activists. The monument will still allow grazing — supervised and paid for — but among the local objections, a small town argues that the monument interferes with a local water district’s ability to get an assured supply. The Interior Department’s site for the monument says that visitors can “hike to rock art sites, drive … to the area’s namesake mining ghost town, hunt desert bighorn sheep, or tour the area’s peaks and canyons on horseback.”

Back to List

 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Map of Grand Staircase-Escalante

Status
Presidential proclamation ordering that the monument “exclude from its designation and reservation approximately 861,974 acres of land that I find are no longer necessary for the proper care and management of the objects to be protected within the monument...” (Dec. 4, 2017)

Size
1.87 million acres

Size after proposed changes
Roughly 1 million acres (Dec. 2017)

Designated
1996

Designated by
William Clinton

 

Critics, mostly in Utah, had objected to the 1996 declaration of the monument for many reasons, including a strong assertion of state sovereignty over its lands. But the desire to open the Kaiparowits Plateau’s coal seams, containing an estimated 30 billion tons of mineable coal, is also a powerful motive. More than 40 years ago, a plan to build a 3,000-megawatt coal-fired electric generating plant on the plateau was abandoned by three utilities — two in southern California, one in Arizona. Getting the coal to market from the remote plateau has always been a stumbling block to commercial development.

...& the Best

More on this topic

BLM speeds ahead on Grand Staircase-Escalante High Country News  (Feb. 27, 2018)

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Policy Changes Recommended

Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks, New Mexico

Map of Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks, New Mexico

Status
Report urges administration “assess risks to operational readiness of nearby military installations” and “assess border safety risks associated with Potrillos Mountain Complex.” (Sept. 17)

Size
496,300 acres

Size after proposed changes
N/A

Designated
2014

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

Back to List

 

Rio Grande del Norte, New Mexico

Map of Rio Grande del Norte, New Mexico

Status
Management Plan “should be revised”; Report references grazing as “a significant traditional use” that has been hampered by road closures. (Sept. 17)

Size
242,455 acres

Size after proposed changes
N/A

Designated
2013

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

Back to List

 

Monuments Reviewed with No Changes Indicated

Basin and Range National Monument, Nevada

Map of Basin and Range

Status
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)

Size
704,000 acres

Designated
July 2015

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

Long advocated by former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, the monument is roughly the size of Rhode Island, sits north of Las Vegas and takes in everything from ancient rock art to arid angular mountains to “City” a collection of abstract sculptures that the artist Michael Heizer took four decades to assemble; it is the size of the national mall in Washington. The anger of local opponents, who felt cut out of the decision and restricted in their future economic development, was voiced by Republican Senator Dean Heller before the monument’s designation. He told E&E News: “an inclusive approach where local parties affected by the designation have a seat at the table to voice their opinion.” He added,"These are the stakeholders most affected by any federal action on this matter.”

Back to List

Giant Sequoia National Monument, California

Panorama from an overlook on California State Route 180 near the southwestern edge of Giant Sequoia National Monument Famartin via Wikimedia Commons

Map of Giant Sequoia

Status
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)

Size
328,315 acres

Designated
April 2000

Designated by
William Clinton

 

The monument, which abuts Sequoia National Park, contains 33 groves of redwoods, the towering trees that got the attention of the world when settlers first saw them in the 19th century. The groves, with names like Indian Basin, Burro Creek, Starvation Complex and Upper Tule, are now surrounded by an undergrowth of smaller trees, millions of which have died thanks to drought and beetle infestations. Some members of the supervisors’ boards in Kern and Tulare Counties want the freedom to allow logging in these areas, though it is not clear who could find profit in the beetle-gnawed trees. And recently, the governing boards in those two counties came to different decisions on whether to send letters opposing the monument Local citizens also held rallies supporting it.

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Mojave Trails National Monument, California

Map of Mojave Trails

Status:
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)

Size
1.6 million acres

Size after proposed changes
No changes indicated. Rep. Paul Cook had recommended a 500,000-acre reduction.

Designated
2016

Designated by
Barack Obama

 

Discussions about the future of this monument almost always include the word “Cadiz,” for two reasons. First, it is the name given to a spectacular group of sand dunes at the at the heart of the monument, which surrounds historic Route 66. Second, it is the name of a company, Cadiz Inc., that has proposed a water pumping, storage and delivery project near the dunes. The project envisions a 43-mile-long pipeline from a groundwater pumping station to the Colorado River aqueduct. From there, the water could flow to customers in southern California. The Cadiz project was supported in March by the local Republican congressman, Paul Cook. In June, he supported cutting 500,000 acres surrounding the pipeline route from the monument.

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Papahanaumokuakea National Monument, Hawaii

Map of Papahanaumokuakea National Monument

Status
No changes indicated. (Sept. 17)

Size
89.5 million acres (2006);
372 million acres (2016)

Designated
2006

Designated by
George W. Bush

Enlarged
2016

Enlarged by
Barack Obama

 

Back to List

 

 

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Responding to Tracking Proposed National Monument Reductions in the West

Those interested in reading more about Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument and
how the BLM isn’t waiting for the courts to rule on monument boundaries to
start planning should visit:
https://www.hcn.org/articles/blm-speeds-ahead-on-grand-staircase-escalante-plans

High Country News has covered the many aspects of these monument reductions.

See http://hcn.org/topics/monuments for our most recent coverage

3/7/2018, 10:18am

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On U.S. Public Lands, Can Biden Undo What Trump Has Wrought? President Biden’s ambitious agenda for public lands includes bans on oil and gas drilling and restored protections for key areas. Reversing the Trump administration’s policies, however, may be made difficult by conservative courts and rules changes. Yale Environment 360

Why Utah’s Wild Mink COVID-19 Cases Matter: In Utah, which faces similar problems to those encountered by the Netherlands last year, thousands of farmed minks have died of Covid-19. The affected sites have been forced into quarantine, and a wild mink tested positive for coronavirus last month -- the first wild animal to have naturally been infected with the virus. High Country News spoke with Dr. Anna Fagre, a virologist and veterinarian at Colorado State University, to help put the recent COVID-19 outbreak among wild minks in context. High Country News

Timber Tax Cuts Cost Oregon Towns Billions. Then Polluted Water Drove Up the Price. In rural Oregon, logging-related water contamination has threatened their access to clean, safe drinking water, forcing small towns to spend millions on new water infrastructure. The future of logging regulations remains murky for the nation’s top lumber producer. For decades, Oregon has allowed logging companies to leave fewer trees behind than in other states. Propublica/Oregonian

The Interior Department Effort to Relocate Jobs to Colorado Prompted a Mass Exodus; some 41 of 328 employes slated to move to Grand Junction, Colorado actually made the move; the rest left the agency. The Bureau of Land Management’s loss of so many longtime career employes – only 60 jobs were left in place in the Washington office -- is an example of the Trump Administration’s success the federal government. Washington Post

An Exploration of the Reasons to Cherish Microbiotic Soils. Fungi, lichen, cyanobacteria, algae, and other tiny organisms live in just the top few millimeters of soil; these crusts are critical to the health of the desert, and can be damaged repeated trampling by people, cattle, or off-road vehicles. Sierra Club

Some Ecological Damage from Trump’s Rushed Border Wall Could Be Repaired; conservationists are urging the Biden administration to remove sections of the barrier that cut across critical habitats, block migration corridors, and damage watersheds. The coalition opposing the wall has identified specific problematic sections to be potentially removed. Scientific American

Tens of Millions of Birds Pass Through Two Corridors in the West: California’s Central Valley and the Colorado River Delta. New research finds that more than 82 million birds pass through these regions during spring migration, with tree swallows concentrating in the Colorado delta and Anna’s hummingbirds in the Central Valley. This data helps define critical habitats for western birds, with up to 80 percent of some species’ populations passing through the two areas. Yale Environment 360

The Navajo Generating Station, a Major Employer and a Major Polluter on Navajo Land, has Been Demolished after Navajo and Hopi community members fought for years to close the facility. Now, Navajo and Hopi community members are outlining steps for community restoration, such as securing electricity and clean water access for residents, as well as job training. Center For Health, Environment And Justice

Articles Worth Reading: January 19, 2020

A Forever Drought Takes Hold in the West. The U.S. Drought Monitor — the nation’s official tally — shows Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico mired in “exceptional drought.” This type of drought is only supposed to happen every 50 years, but it’s now a regular occurrence. Even if rain and snow arrive in the coming months, parched soil will slurp it up, leaving less for riverbeds. Axios

“We’re Bound by That River,” one water expert said of the Colorado River, which supplies water to 40 million people. “All of us, regardless of our legal rights, regardless of what’s on paper, we need to consider how we can use less water. And we need to take action immediately.” The Colorado Basin and its water managers must juggle the laws that are decades old, new agreements and persistent aridity. The huge reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead have shrunk dramatically. Some observers say the rules governing distribution of the Colorado’s waters need to be fundamentally reimagined. Arizona Republic

Unlikely Coalitions Form to Block New Port Facilities to export fossil fuels. Teaming with Native Americans, ranchers and sportsmen, environmentalists have worked to block nearly every effort to export coal, oil and liquified natural gas from the West Coast. They just claimed another major victory this month – the latest of more than two dozen -- when a proposed coal-export terminal in Washington state was called off. Associated Press

“Fossil” Groundwater Is Being Depleted in California, and its users can’t rely on it being replenished any century soon, according to new study. If the water tucked underground for 100 centuries is used for the crops and pools of the 21st century, the fossil water stores will disappear for good. “It’s just like taking gold out of the ground, out of a mountain,” said Menso de Jong, the study’s lead author. “The gold is not going to grow back.” San Jose Mercury News

Apaches Sue to Stop First Step in Approval of Copper Mine Near Sacred Site. If an environmental study’s publication is blocked, the process of approving the mine planned by Resolution Copper might be derailed. A podcast interview with the reporter covering the controversy, Debra Utacia Krol of The Arizona Republic. KSUT

To Help Rural Economies, One-Third of Spotted Owl Habitat in Oregon Was Excluded from Protection. The size of the protected acreage has yo-yoed from one administration to the next, but this cut in protected areas is one of the biggest on record. The amount of habitat protected in the Obama administration was more than 9 million acres; the Trump administration in its final days cut that by more than 3 million acres. E&E News

Rural Coloradans Seek to Contain Light Pollution. NASA photos of Colorado from space show a widening urban white-out reaching into rural areas. The dark-sky zones that southwestern Colorado leaders are proposing in areas like the San Luis Valley would, all combined, cover more than 3,800 square miles — the largest official area protected from artificial light on the planet. Denver Post

Wildlife Take Stock of Photographers Taking Stock of Wildlife. “Animals interrupting wildlife photographers,” a thread by the Catalan journalist Joaquim Campa. Twitter

Articles Worth Reading: December 7, 2020

New Data Shows Lethal Damage to Coho Salmon Is From Tire Residue, as researchers double-down on the findings about tires’ environmental damage. One chemical, 6PPD-quinone, interacts with ozone and becomes highly toxic to Puget Sound salmon, taking out 40 to 80 percent of returning salmon before the spawn. The problem extends from Washington state, where scientists have been studying the issue, to California; tires are the largest source of microplastics in San Francisco Bay. The Seattle Times Los Angeles Times

With Legal Barriers Gone, More Westerners Are Harvesting Rain to supplement the disappearing water in the Colorado River and the Ogallala Aquifer. Rainwater harvesting—a cheap, low-barrier, low-energy method—may provide one piece of the long-term solution to water shortages in a region where climate change is intensifying droughts. Today, rainwater capture is legal in every state, though many have restrictions. A few, like Colorado, didn’t legalize it until 2016 and still restrict the total amount harvested. The Counter

A Navajo-Majority County Commission in Utah Calls for Restoring the Bears’ Ears Monument to its original size. The Trump Administration dramatically reduced the monument from 1.35 million acres to two separate areas totaling 200,000 acres. The San Juan County Commission voted 2-to-1 to make the request, with its two Navajo members in the majority. Associated Press

In the Wake of Fierce Fires, A Sudden Burst of Logging in Colorado. State foresters are overseeing wholesale mechanized tree-cutting, as tractors dig holes up to 140 acres in size are appearing among the lodgepole pines. A hot national wood-products market snaps up the lumber created in Colorado, which has never traditionally been a logging state. Across western Colorado, insect attacks on old and drought-enfeebled trees over the past decade have left 5 million acres of skeletal trees in a region climate change has made susceptible to wildfire. This year, 700,000 acres burned. Denver Post

As Insurers Blanch at Newly Calculated Wildfire Losses — $24 Billion in the U.S. in 2018, they continue to flee fire prone areas. In California alone in 20219, insurers pulled coverage from more than 230,000 homes — about 31 percent more than the year before. California regulators want to keep private insurers from fleeing the state, but know that climate change is changing everyone’s risk calculation. Bloomberg

Graphics & the West

Where California Grows Its Food

See the most detailed survey ever done of crops and land use in California. It covers nine million acres of land devoted to grapes, alfalfa, cotton, plums, you name it – food for people and animals all over the world. View map »

California's Changing Energy Mix

A look at the energy sources California utilities have used gives us insights into the state’s progress in decarbonizing its electricity supply. In 2015, 35% of total electricity generation (in-state generation plus imported electricity) came from zero-greenhouse-gas sources, which include solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear. View Graphic »

U.S. Conservation Easements

Conservation easements of various kinds cover more than 22 million acres of land in the United States, according to the National Conservation Easement Database, a public-private partnership. Take a look at our interactive map of nearly every conservation easement, with details on over 130,000 sites. View map »

 

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