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Our View: Darts and Laurels: A laurel and a dart to Zinke on monument review


August 24, 2017

The Havre Daily News is giving both a laurel and a dart to the Montanan in the highest government position in the country, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

Kudos to Zinke for saying he will recommend several monuments, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, not be changed.

A dart for recommending one, Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, be downsized and for participating in a review that is a waste of time and money.

President Donald Trump ordered Zinke review 27 monuments of 100,000 acres or more established by presidents from 1996 on — a totally arbitrary size and date, incidentally — to see if they should be left alone or altered.

ZInke said his concern was that enough public input may not have been collected in establishing the monuments and he opened them up again for public comment.

That shortly after he suspended the Bureau of Land Management Resource Advisory Councils, like the one in Montana that held public meetings for two years to collect input on what, if anything, should be done to protect the Upper Missouri River Breaks that led to President Bill Clinton establishing the monument in 2001.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents the power to declare “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the government of the United States to be national monuments.”

Trump and Zinke seem to think they can ignore that and change what has been made monuments.

The people complaining about the monuments seem to be upset that the government is regulating publicly owned land. A common complaint is government overreach and the federal government “grabbing” land.

Oddly enough, the land the government grabs is land it already owns. Monument designation only affects federal land, and often continues multiple-use status of the land, such as grazing that is specified in the Missouri River Breaks proclamation to continue. What designations generally do prohibit is things like construction, new mining and new oil and gas exploration — which seems to be something that the government should prevent on land worth being named a monument.

An examination of the impacts of federal regulation on private and state land within the boundaries of the monument shows — there aren’t any. Being within the boundaries of a monument only means if the federal government buys the land it automatically becomes part of the monument. The only other potential impact is that the landowners now live next to land designated as a monument.

As far as making monuments too big, that depends on the monument. It might be a single item, such as the 54-acre Pompeys Pillar National Monument in Montana, or the Papahanaumokuakea  Marine National Monument comprising 582,578 square miles of land and sea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, created by President George W. Bush and expanded by President Barack Obama.

In the case of the 377,346-acre Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, researchers determined the boundaries of land comprising a unit with significant historical, geological and ecological interest to deem a monument. The state and private land within those boundaries is land that fits the category but is not owned by the federal government, so it is reserved to automatically become part of the monument if the owner sells it to the feds.

The people complaining about the monuments seem to be complaining because they didn’t get their way. In the Missouri River Breaks monument, the people opposed had their chance to give their say, and many did many times, but Clinton went with the numerous people who said they wanted more protection for the breaks.

Monument status gives many benefits. In addition to protecting national treasures like the Upper Missouri River Breaks, they also attract visitors — and money.

Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester have cited that 130,000 people visit the monument each year, bringing in $10 million in new economic activity. Part of that includes visitors centers and amenities, which also create jobs. Bullock cited a study by Headwaters Economics that found real person income in the area of the monument grew by 19 percent since its creation and real per capita income grew by 23 percent.

The monuments also have widespread support. Tester said in a release that more than 700 Montanans had called his offices to express support, and a poll showed 58 percent of Montanans polled opposed eliminating or reducing the monument with 28 percent supporting reducing or eliminating it.

The same is true for other monuments. According to The Center for Western Priorities, a nonpartisan conservation group, 99 percent of the comments made to the federal government about the Bears Ears monument — which Zinke recommended be reduced in size — supported leaving it alone.

And the question is, can Trump do anything even if he wants to? Some scholars say that while the Antiquities Act allows presidents to declare land as monuments, it does nothing to let them undo monuments. Only Congress can do that.

The courts have been consistent since the creation of one of the first monuments created, President Theodore Roosevelt’s 800,120-acre Grand Canyon National Monument created in 1908, was taken to court by a miner who wanted to continue prospecting there. In 1920, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the size of the monument did not violate the Antiquities Act’s requirement a monument be confined to the smallest size possible, saying the nature of the canyon fit that acreage being declared a monument. The Supreme Court has never invalidated a monument since.

We urge Zinke and Trump to remember the purpose of the Antiquities Act, of the proclamations creating monuments and the benefits those monuments bring to their area and to the nation.

Stop wasting time and money and leave the nation’s monuments alone.


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