Mind the Gap: Monument Review Via the New York Times

By WillMcC – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4379199

It’s interesting to see how folks outside the Interior West see things, as per this New York Times story. I think there are some gaps which we can try to fill in as this unfolds.

Mr. Trump, signing the order at the Interior Department, described the designations as a “massive federal land grab” and ordered the agency to review and reverse some of them.

“It’s time to end these abuses and return control to the people, the people of Utah, the people of all of the states, the people of the United States,” the president said…

Notice that this quote specifically states “Utah”. We can see that the President’s interest could be more about the larger. more controversial and recent (December 28, 2016) ones. You can see that in this Denver Post story also, in which Zinke met with Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada governors. Also you can read about a Governor asking President Obama not to designate in this story, and asking President Trump to rescind in this story.

It was in the news at the end of the Obama administration after President Barack Obama created several national monuments, setting aside millions of acres on land and sea. At the time, some Republicans in Congress said they wanted to reform the act, which they said encouraged federal government overreach, a claim that has dogged the law since it was adopted.

It’s interesting that the writer said simply “Republicans”.. I bet they were from the area. An R from, say, Florida is unlikely to care much. The write could have said “local and state elected officials, mostly Republican, from Utah and other western states, have questioned these large designations.” Otherwise it sounds like a partisan issue, which it is not, or not entirely, at the local scale.

The president can make national monuments only from land already controlled by the federal government, and the act generally does not change how the land is used, said Lisa Dale, the associate director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. If leases for mining, ranching, drilling or logging already exist on land to be made into a national monument, they can continue, but new leases probably won’t be allowed, she said.

It’s interesting that the Times asks Lisa Dale, from a university in Connecticut (yes, I graduated from there but a long time ago), instead of someone from the Interior West. Both of the experts chosen by the Times are on the coasts, including our sometime contributor Char Miller.

Who could be hurt by possible changes?

Most Americans support protection of public lands. According to a 2016 study from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, more than 93 percent of respondents said that historical sites, public lands and national parks should be protected for current and future generations.

Char Miller, an environmental historian at Pomona College, said that if national monuments were diminished by the review process, it would actually hurt the people opponents of the law are claiming to protect.

Some designations are controversial, as was Mr. Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah in December. Republicans argued that it would hurt the local economy, but Mr. Miller said wilderness areas can bring in tourists who support local businesses.

But public lands are already “protected” from many things.. not sure how that KSG study is relevant, except to paint a picture. Miller makes an interesting claim here that local people would be hurt by removing the designation. If the land is managed the same way as before, then how will they be hurt? By the lack of monument status on lands they already work and recreate on? Or the lack of money to their communities in the future by the designation? And it’s only been in place since December for Bears Ears, so how far down the path are they?

I don’t think that these quotes are fair to the complexity of the issue that is easy to unearth just by reading Stiles’ piece.

At three of the national monuments Mr. Obama created or expanded — Bears Ears, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii — special effort was made to include Indian tribes in the designation process and continuing management of these areas.

Ms. Dale said that reducing these monuments or changing them “would have a chilling effect on tribal federal relations when it comes to protecting landscapes.”

People already involve Tribes in BLM and FS planning (on those same acres). Conceivably, they could be involved to the same extent without Monument status. If there is some problem with the standard way of working with Tribes, it seems to me that it should be fixed for all FS and BLM plans, and not require a designation status. It’s also possible that different Tribes feel differently about the details and the process.. and if so, some might feel “chilled” and others, not so much.

Who would it help?

If existing national monuments are reduced in size, it could benefit extractive industries like oil and gas, mining, logging, as well as ranching, Mr. Miller said, because the government could grant more leases on federal land. Given the Trump administration’s recent actions — including lifting the moratorium on drilling on federal lands and the obligation to limit methane emissions on public lands — officials might be eyeing new fossil fuel leases on previously protected land, though Mr. Zinke said he was not predisposed to make any such recommendation about the monument land.

Mr. Zinke said that he has heard claims that some monument designations have ended in “lost wages, lost jobs and reduced public access.” But he added that he believed “some jobs probably have been created by recreational opportunities.”

Some of the opposition to the national monuments may be ideological. Western ranchers and sportsmen have long complained about what they see as federal land grabs that limit their access to millions of acres of public territory. However, a majority of Americans in Western states, home to vast tracts of federal land, support maintaining public land.

(my italics)

This last bit was a bit of a stretch IMHO. Ideological? Ranchers and sportsman have “limited access”?
What was missing from this story- the gaps? The views of people like Stiles. Questions about designation and the outdoor industry. Questions about the process of designation and how that compares to other land use planning exercises on federal land, in terms of public comment and environmental review. Designation’s potential impacts on motorized and mechanized recreation. Questions about the costs to the feds, and where the bucks for more planning and visitors’ centers and so on is going to come from- and what they won’t be doing instead. But we can take these up in later posts.

I’m glad they interviewed Zinke.

“No one loves their public lands more than I,” Mr. Zinke said. “You can love them as much, but not more than I do.”

13 Comments

  1. Interesting how Lisa Dale maintains that “. . . the act generally does not change how the land is used, said Lisa Dale, the associate director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. If leases for mining, ranching, drilling or logging already exist on land to be made into a national monument, they can continue, but new leases probably won’t be allowed.”

    Yes, existing uses are generally allowed to continue, but saying that a monument designation doesn’t change land use, when it can (and usually does) actually result in the termination of prospective future use, is an ethically bankrupt statement, designed to deceive the general public.

    For most of the public acres usually involved in a monument designation, statutory mandates require that the included federal public lands be managed for multiple use and sustained yield. Those uses are crucial if we are ever to work our way out from under the national debt that Congress has levered onto our backs, and those of our children and grandchildren. They were intended as a source of raw materials to ensure the prosperity of the nation and its people. National monument designation by a willing president is a relatively easy end run around the heavy lifting required to convince the Congress to designate one legislatively. Just a stroke of a pen, and a president can make the productive mandates of long-standing statutes evaporate like mist. Cheap, quick, and no inconvenient public debate. How cool is that?

    But wait, there’s more!

    If your cartographers ink in the designation boundaries to include large amounts of state school trust lands and mineral rights, along with sweeping in a whole lot of privately-owned property, why there’s decades of work for the bureaucrats who work diligently to convince states to engage in land swaps and private property owners to donate or sell their land to the federal government for a song!

    Most who live far away from significant public lands acreages have no more than a dim concept of how it is all intended to work, and are often easily taken in by pronouncements like Dale’s and those of the industrial recreation industry, the latter of whom demand more and more huge national monuments as their customers’ playgrounds.

    Yeah, there’s a gap or three between how people far away from federal public lands and those living in the urban zones, just as there’s a gap between how well you can raise a family on a natural resource management job and a seasonal one tied to the whims of the recreation industry and its customers. There’s also a bit of a shortage of people who live in the impact zones that are interested in trying to withstand the withering rhetorical barrage applied to anyone who dares publicly oppose a national monument designation.

  2. Thanks Sharon for your thorough post and for maintaining this blog.
    I recently met a U of Oregon law student who had been on staff with the tribes during process to identify, propose and then designate Bears Ears. The tribes are VERY excited about the designation and their role in management planning. Unlike Trump, Zinke and pals I see it as a huge step forward in recognizing the important cultural links to, and indigenous knowledge of, ecosystems.
    I think it would be wise to recall that just about a century ago a FORWARD LOOKING Republican president (T.R.) and his pal Pinchot pissed off the Congress by creating Monuments and expanding National Forests in the West. Without their foresight we, frankly, wouldn’t have the luxury of debating how our public lands are managed. Weyco, Plum Creek and others would be calling the shots! I doubt Trump will do anything as great as TR & Pinchot did and in fact I suspect he’ll make a mess of some aspects of our public land management.
    I’ve been engaged in public land management since the early ’70’s and generally like the direction we’ve moved in to think about landscapes as ecosystems and take more factors into account than my silviculture professor even knew about given his education in the ’50’s.
    Because this blog is called a “New Century” of forest planning it would be great if more of us looked ahead – into this century – and not behind to what some see as the glory days of the past; the public and the science have moved past the days when we foresters thought it was just fine to cut big old growth, send “3 log loads” off to the mill and replant Doug fir monocultures.
    And by the way, the outdoor industry has a ton of economic clout and is working to build it’s political muscles; AFRC and other extractive industries won’t be king of the mountain for much longer. I’ll be glad to see that shift!

    • “… I suspect he’ll make a mess of some aspects of our public land management.”

      Don’t you mean a bigger mess? *smirk*

      I thought Obama was making some progress, accomplishing a new Planning Rule and closing some litigation loopholes. Not all environmentalists agreed with his ‘commitment’ to blind preservationism, though. (Edit) Actually, Obama seemed to let his people do their jobs without personally mandating anything.

      Trump will create new problems and new litigation that misdirects the public from the real problems. (but, hey, it appears that eco-lawyers will get paid well, the next 4 years, while forests suffer)

    • Not all of the Tribes were supportive. Importantly, the Tribes elected representative on the San Juan County Council was opposed. Her congressional testimony is a must read for anyone who wishes to truly understand the Tribal dynamic.

      • AFRC’s members are in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California — none in Colorado, Sharon. Its influence is strongest in the Northwest’s rural communities; less so in metro areas. Insofar as public lands policy is concerned, AFRC is the Northwest timber industry’s most effective voice.

        • Thanks, Andy, that was kind of my point.. when we talk about western public lands or forests, it’s also about Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico (and South Dakota) and the “timber industry” is Intermountain Forest Association, then there’s of course National Forests in the midwest, northeast, south and southeast, not sure who represents them.

          That’s why when people talk about “corporate logging” Oregonians may think of ?? but we think of Joe’s sawmill, which is nada, financially, compared to the outdoor, ski, or oil and gas industries.

  3. Well, how interesting to hear these voices “opposed” to the creation of national monuments. President Taft used the Antiquities Act to create the Colorado National Monument more than 100 years ago. Since then it has brought our community literally billions of dollars (an average of 28 million per year in recent years) and has effectively saved thousands of incredibly sensitive and important archeological sites. How much money do the Feds give our local community from visitor fees? 80 percent. Funds that keep our schools, infrastructure and roads going through the many, many booms and busts of the oil and gas industry. The only ones attempting to make a so called “land grab” are Republican Congressmen pushing their schlock story about a “government land grab” on the public. Like they would be the ones to reign in government. You all do realize when they shut the government down, they are the only “employees” who continue to get paid?? Canyon Lands of the Ancients is a great argument against BLM or Forest Service management. Before it attained Monument status more than 500 miles of oil and gas roads and numerous wells ran roughshod over those lands and uncounted archeological sites…and by the way, they remain grandfathered in. The deal is a group of Republican lawmakers have been pushing for the Feds to hand over lands to the states. Those lawmakers know the states barely have enough funds to manage state lands. The end game is, they hope, that cash strapped states would have to sell those lands off to Big oil through sales or increased mineral leases. Oil and gas already drill on 90 percent of public lands but apparently they just can’t stand the thought of not owning that last 10 percent. Maybe the CEO’s need to add another vacation home in Aspen or another 10-thousand Square feet to their 80,000 square foot Dallas mansion…or maybe their just plain greedy. As long as they own our Congressmen we get ill informed posts like the ones above. All I can say, is I do live in the west. I do know the immense good our public lands have done in our community (the least of which is bringing up our children to understand the inherent value of protecting these lands, as well as clean water and air for future generations. Write your Congressman, write your Senator, speak out to protect the West and end gerrymandered districts, and use your vote to keep those politicians who protect public lands and to get rid of those who don’t. Legal experts agree this issue will land in the courts, let hope the law if not logic will help save our current and future monuments and national parks.

    • Welcome to the blog, Terri! Just a few questions.. on this site it says the Park Service keeps 80% of the visitors fees to run the park “he fees you pay when visiting Colorado National Monument are important! Under the Federal Recreation Lands Enhancement Act, national parks keep 80% of all fees collected and use that money to fund critical projects that improve visitor services and protect natural and cultural resources” https://www.nps.gov/colm/planyourvisit/fees.htm

      I don’t see how this fits with your claim of “How much money do the Feds give our local community from visitor fees? 80 percent. Funds that keep our schools, infrastructure and roads going through the many, many booms and busts of the oil and gas industry”- can you please explain?

      Also just so you know, some monuments (because they are run by BLM and FS?) don’t charge entrance fees so … there is no money from those to go to the management of the monument.
      I also have questions about your statement:
      “Oil and gas already drill on 90 percent of public lands but apparently they just can’t stand the thought of not owning that last 10 percent.” I would be interested in seeing what your source is for those numbers.

      Thanks!

  4. “No one loves their public lands more than I,” Mr. Zinke said. “You can love them as much, but not more than I do.”

    Wow. Is that a binding directive on how much “Love” the public can risk attesting as to how much they value the lands they cherish — coming straight from the top of Trump’s corporate hierarchy ?

    The question of course is not “how much” love — but what kind of love? Logger, miner, driller, multinational corporate profiteering kind of “love?” Or the agency “tough love” of enabling and ignoring the “irretrievable and irreversible” negative externalities of corporate asset-stripping of public lands for short term profit taking, for the top 1 percentile of the public?

    Of course the notion that such exploitative nonrewable asset stripping of finite minerals, old growth, oil and gas qualifies as “sustainable resources” is only marginally less laughable than the notion such activities would get us out from under our National Debt– especially considering all activities are responsible for such debt and worse yet, are propelling our nation and the rest of the planet into irreversible catastrophic climate change.

    Currently the US taxpayer is losing 95-99 cents on the subsidy dollar for old growth and second growth logging on the Tongass National Forest. Similarly, the State of Alaska’s timber program is losing 86 cents on the dollar, while its only legislated timber regulation fails to mention any standards for maintaining wildlife sustainability.

    The State of Alaska as well as our nation faces such fiscal and existential crises precisely because of their resource extraction-at-all-costs fiscal policies.

  5. The rhetoric of big bad business stripping our natural resources is getting old. After 20+ years of minimal management we are seeing increases in catastrophic fires, where resources are destroyed in the name of nature, not to mention lives lost.
    The idea that monument designation leaves the land available for multiple use seems to have gotten lost in the original Siskiyou designation by Clinton and the latest expansion by Obama, grazing leases were even revoked and cancelled, with thousands then being spent on fencing. Meanwhile a few of the backers of the expansion liquidated their own timber assets last year, just prior to the newest designation.
    Just how much land do we need locked up and left to burn?

  6. Some people prefer that such areas eventually reach a Wilderness Designation, as their ultimate ‘protection’ plan. Does the Recreation industry really want a ban on mountain bikes and motorized transportation on these public lands? Do they want a “Whatever Happens” policy on the lands they cherish? Do they want to ban mitigation efforts on impacted lands?

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