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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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Gretchen King

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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...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer and Rebecca Nelson

Articles Worth Reading: Dec. 17, 2018

Pollution on the California-Mexico Border, Some Carried by the New River, flows though the region. Some of it wafts through the air that carries factory fumes over Mexico and Calexico, Some rises from fetid garbage dumps. It all does serious harm to the health of local residents. A series of articles show smokestacks, traffic exhaust, dust, and smoke from trash fires, often leave the cities blanketed in hazy air. The pollution is linked to high rates of respiratory illnesses and deaths. The Desert Sun

We Knew the California Snowpack Was Declining. Now We Know How Fast: 79 Percent by the century’s end. As it fades, much less snowmelt can be drawn on to fill huge reservoirs such as Shasta, Oroville and Folsom. All this as the state’s population and farm economy continue to grow. The new reality that will require fundamental changes in the way California and the federal government have operated the state’s water system for nearly 100 years. San Jose Mercury-News

In Sacramento, Two New Decisions on Dividing the Waters. In one, the state’s top water agency decides to send more water to Delta fish populations on the San Joaquin River, angering farmers and cities. In another, the governor defers to the federal government and makes more water available to farmers. Sacramento Bee
Sacramento Bee

A Federal Ultimatum Declared on a Colorado River drought contingency plan. Get it done by January 31, said the Bureau of Reclamation Representative told the seven states negotiating the plan — or we’ll do it for you. California and Arizona are the last states to fall into line. But this plan, when it is final, could be a bridge to another agreement to manage the water world of the Southwest as the climate changes and the water disappears. Also: how to think about the future. Denver Post Cronkite News John Fleck

Big Utilities Plan Power Shutoffs to Avoid Sparking Wildfires, while the experience of the Camp Fire indicates that small local power grids enhance the resilience of areas in the wildland-urban interface. Utility Drive

Should Washington State Breach Dams to Preserve Orcas? The decline of Puget Sound’s orca population has many probable causes: toxins in the water, noise from boats and lack of food. Chinook salmon are its primary food, and salmon runs are feeble, despite tens of millions spent by hydropower authorities to bolster salmon runs. As part of a $1 billion-plus save-the-orca effort, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled a $750,000 plan to investigate the impact should four Lower Snake River dams be removed. It drew criticism from the northwest’s congressional Republicans. Idaho Statesman

Articles Worth Reading: Dec. 4, 2018

There’s a Bullseye on the American West, When One Looks at Climate Change and its economic and ecological consequences, according to a recent federal report. The report emphasizes growing water scarcity, wildfires, sea-level rise, and health costs brought on by climate change. Tribal, local, and state governments are working on climate adaptation plans. High Country News Denver Post Arizona Daily Star

The Private Firefighter Industry Grows. In response to worsening fires across the West, demand has increased for private firefighter companies. But private firefighters are not an affordable option for many homeowners. Mountain West News Bureau/Elemental

A Sanitation Crisis at the Border. Water contaminated with sewage could have health impacts in communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, whose residents are advocating for water treatment plants and updates to infrastructure. Ticklish relations between the United States and Mexico complicate sewage management policies. NRDC

A Measure to Cut Back Wyoming’s Wilderness Study Areas Advances. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Liz Cheney, would release around 400,000 acres of federal wilderness study areas in Big Horn, Lincoln and Sweetwater counties to general management, eliminating special protections. Park County commissioners are hoping that the bill will be amended to also release the local McCullough Peaks and High Lakes wilderness study areas to less restrictive management. The Powell Tribune

Recycling Scandal Crosses State Lines. A group of Arizona residents are accused of stealing over $16.1 million from California’s beverage recycling program by bringing in thousands of bottles and cans from Arizona. The CalRecycle program gives California residents an opportunity to earn back a tax added to bottled goods by recycling their bottles and cans at special facilities. This is the first recycling scandal in California to cross state jurisdictions. Arizona Republic

Articles Worth Reading: Nov. 20, 2018

Raging Fires Made California’s Air 60 Times Dirtier than world health standards last week, and more than 10 times worse around the San Francisco Bay area, as smoke from the Camp Fire in Paradise sat on communities 200 miles away. Smoke, not flames, is the deadliest public health risk from wildfires. Bloomberg Grist

As Lake Mead’s Levels Drop, Can Seven States in the Colorado River Basin Agree on a drought contingency plan to share the predicted water shortage? A rebellion by two Arizona agencies may impel the six other states to make decisions on their own. Op-ed articles by the state’s governor and a former Interior Secretary scold the agencies for their intransigence. As Gov. Doug Ducey wrote, “The foundational purpose of a multi-state drought contingency plan is to transition to a drier future….However…demands for water and money to mitigate reductions are growing to insurmountable proportions.” Phoenix New Times Arizona Capitol Times Arizona Republic

Gray Wolves’ Protection Under the Endangered Species Act May Not Last, if a bill just passed by Congress becomes law. The measure ends federal protection from the wolves in the 48 contiguous states. In the Northwest, where wolves are considered endangered in the western two-thirds of Oregon and Washington, state agencies would take over. Environmental groups say the wolves’ recovery goals are not far off, but may not be reached if the federal government bows out. Oregon Public Broadcasting

With The New Approval of An Industrial Solar Facility in the California Desert, and the news that its electricity has already been sold, the state, which is already ahead of its legislated goals for renewable energy development, will give a big boost to the national boom in renewable energy — a national success that will eventually face strong competition from China. Clean Technica Solar Industry Magazine Solar Industry Magazine Time

Their Canadian Cousins Thrive, But the Orcas of Puget Sound Face An Existential Crisis. While they are the most studied whales in the world, they among the most endangered orcas. As the population of Canadian orcas has grown by 250 percent since 1974, and is at 309, the population of Puget Sound’s pods, now 74, has grown barely nine percent in the same period. Experts blame the impact of the expanding human and industrial presence in the orcas’ range. The three southern pods have not successfully reproduced in three years. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has put together a task force on recovering the whales. Seattle Times

Articles Worth Reading: Nov. 7, 2018

Six Western States Have Voted on Contested Environmental Policies. Five of Them Failed. Some ballot initiatives gave midterm election voters a chance to support salmon populations in Alaska or to support a fee on carbon emissions or to oppose recent environmental rollbacks involving drilling. Oil, gas, and mining companies poured money in opposition to statewide ballot measures that could increase costs or diminish revenues. The story of the campaigns and the work of environmental groups ran before the election. The results came today, in places ranging from Colorado to Washington State to Alaska. Mother Jones Denver Post Montana Standard PV Magazine Seattle Times KTUU Anchorage

The Navajo Tribe’s Future Without Its Major Employer and With a New President. As the various financial schemes for prolonging the life of the Navajo Generating Station fell apart, tribal members who work there must choose between finding employment where the new owners assign them, or staying on the reservation until the plant closes a year from now, then having a small chance of any job that pays as well. Their decisions will be made against a new political backdrop, as Joseph Nez, at 43, was just elected the youngest Navajo president ever. ASU/Cronkite News Indian Z News

Rare Dinosaur Fossils Are Threatened by the reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Vast areas of land that may contain important paleontological discoveries are now vulnerable to potential energy development. About 250,000 acres of land with a high potential for fossils are being considered for mineral development. Salt Lake Tribune

A Water Reckoning in Colorado. Farming communities in the North Fork Valley of Colorado are water-rich in an era of increasing water scarcity. Farmers continue to use high volumes of water for irrigation. However, with climate change, the community will have to change outdated and inefficient systems in order to share water more cooperatively. High Country News

Indigenous Food Sovereignty in British Columbia. Activist Jessie Housty, a member of the Haíłzaqv nation, is educating young people in her community about their traditional food sources and culture. Her efforts are part of a larger movement to address food insecurity and malnutrition in indigenous communities through providing access to cultural foods. Civil Eats

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