Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s effort to shrink and revise some of America’s greatest natural treasures is a legally untenable push that must be challenged by the Northwest’s Congressional delegation.
UNITED States Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s drive to shrink the boundaries of a handful of national monuments is an assault on Western-American values. It’s a legally dubious scheme that upends Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation legacy, and it demands a shove back from Washington’s congressional delegation.
Zinke’s plans are detailed in a memorandum, which he had refused to reveal until it was leaked to The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal earlier this week. Recommendations include downsizing Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments, along with Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters, and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles the Oregon-California border. Cascade-Siskiyou is renowned as the first Antiquities Act monument established specifically for its biological diversity.
“In this exercise, Trump and Zinke are fighting the will of the American public to gift-wrap pieces of the Pacific Northwest’s crown jewel of biodiversity for the logging industry,” said the Western Environmental Law Center’s Susan Jane Brown.
Washingtonians expressed relief when the 194,000-acre Hanford Reach National Monument avoided the chopping block. Constitutional scholars note that only Congress has the power to shrink or abolish national monuments, not the president. Any implied executive authority — which President Trump appears ready to test — was negated with the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.
Trump’s attack on national monuments is not unprecedented. President Woodrow Wilson worked to shrink Mount Olympus National Monument, created by Teddy Roosevelt in 1909, which later became Washington’s Olympic National Park in 1938. Wilson’s actions were never challenged in court — executed decades before the 1976 act gave Congress sole authority to downsize or eliminate monuments.
Zinke’s target list flows from Trump’s executive order 13792 back in April, directing the interior secretary to review prior uses of the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law that allows a president to designate or expand a national monument.
Especially jarring is the administration’s efforts to scale backmarine monuments in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, sublime areas created by President George W. Bush and expanded by Barack Obama (the push is to open up hundreds of miles of ecologically fragile fisheries for commercial purposes).
Zinke’s report goes beyond the scissoring of monument boundaries and recommends altering management plans designed to harmonize wildlife, recreation and public use. It’s also riddled with inaccuracies, including basic details on hunting and fishing rights at two monuments in New Mexico.
The report is as unsettling as it is legally untenable. It contravenes the conservation and recreation values of the vast majority of Americans. All the more reason for members of Congress give it the heave-ho.