It’s a speck compared to the 27 big monuments the White House has targeted for federal review. Yet backers of the San Juan Islands National Monument, a Washington state tourism magnet in the Salish Sea, hardly feel safe.
WASHINGTON — With only 1,000 acres, the San Juan Islands National Monument in northwestern Washington state may be too tiny to even matter to President Donald Trump.
It’s a speck compared with the 27 big monuments that the White House targeted for a federal review on Friday, with only one on the list smaller than 100,000 acres.
Yet backers of the San Juan Islands monument, a tourism magnet in the Salish Sea, hardly feel safe. They fear that Trump could soon use an executive order he signed on April 26 to try to overturn designations of smaller federally protected sites, too.
A little-noticed provision opens the door to that possibility. It allows Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review any designation if he determines that it was made “without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”
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“I don’t think anything is safe under this president,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, whose Washington state district includes the 4-year-old monument, made up of 75 small islands, rocks and pinnacles and a home to orca whales, harbor seals and bald eagles. “My concern is that the president wants to get rid of national monuments altogether.”
Bryan Watt, spokesman for Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the language in Trump’s order includes “a huge loophole for Zinke to include smaller monuments” in the review.
Cantwell, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that Trump’s order could open up thousands of acres of public lands and coastal shores, accusing the president of trying to “exploit lands held in public trust.”
“Over 100 years of conservation is proposed to be undone in just a few days by President Trump,” Cantwell said in a speech on the Senate floor two weeks ago.
Under Trump’s order, Zinke has 45 days to release an initial report, with final recommendations due within 120 days. He kicked off the review this week with a “listening tour” in Utah and stops at the controversial Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, two of the 27 monuments to be “initially reviewed.”
Since President Theodore Roosevelt designated Devils Tower in Wyoming as the first national monument in 1906, 15 other presidents have used their power under the Antiquities Act to create or expand another 156 national monuments that total 840 million acres.
Trump, who pledged as a presidential candidate to open more federal lands to energy development, isn’t the only one complaining about the law.
It has set off alarms on Capitol Hill after Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, used the law 34 times to protect nearly 554 million acres of land and water as national monuments.
Last week, Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador said that Obama had locked up acreage that measured “10 times the size of Idaho” while setting “a new standard for executive overreach.”
The complaints prompted a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands, where Republicans stepped up their attacks.
California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock, the panel’s chairman, told his colleagues that the monuments often result in broad prohibitions on roads, hunting and fishing and other recreational uses, denying access to too many Americans.
“Preserving these lands for future generations does not mean closing them to the current generation,” he said.
And Labrador, another member of the subcommittee, praised Trump’s move but said the White House plan to review the monuments and then recommend any changes did not go far enough.
Labrador introduced a bill that would require approval from Congress and any state with a proposed monument before a president would designate a monument.
“Individuals who live near our public lands and state and local elected officials know how to best protect our cherished lands,” Labrador said, “more than any bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., or any think tank or any other group like that, or even the president of the United States.”
Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are promoting a similar bill in the Senate, called the Improved National Monument Designation Process Act. Like Labrador’s bill, it would require states and Congress to sign off on national monuments. Risch said the legislation “would allow for greater transparency.”
Idaho has one of the 27 monuments up for review, Craters of the Moon National Monument.
In Washington state, presidents have used the law four times to create national monuments, though there are only three now: San Juan Islands, Hanford Reach and Mount St. Helens. The fourth, Mount Olympus, became Olympic National Park in 1938.
With 195,000 acres, the Hanford Reach monument created by President Bill Clinton in 2000 is the only one in Washington state on the initial list of 27 that fits Trump’s criteria: larger than 100,000 acres and created in the last 21 years. Mount St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument is large enough, with 110,000 acres, but it was established in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan.
But for many of Trump’s critics, fears persist that more bad news is yet to come.
Larsen said he planned to visit the San Juan Islands this week to meet with locals who battled for years to create the monument.
“They’re worried,” he said. “We don’t want a target on the back of the San Juan national monument.”
When Obama created the monument in 2013, his proclamation called the San Juan Islands “an unmatched landscape of contrasts, where forests (seem) to spring from gray rock and distant snow-capped peaks provide the backdrop for sandy beaches.”
It’s a place long cherished by those who live there.
“Right now it’s wildflower season, and the wildflowers out at Iceberg Point are gorgeous,” said Tom Reeve of Lopez Island, chairman of the San Juan Islands monument advisory committee. “And when the whales are by, there’s no place better to watch them.”
Reeve said he and other backers of the monument will fight the Trump administration if necessary, but he’s hoping that doesn’t happen.
“We’re definitely not excluded in the order,” Reeve said. “But it would take quite a stretch to say that there wasn’t strong public input in this designation. So I don’t think we’re at risk, though frankly if there are changes made to other monuments, that makes us nervous. Because it sets a precedent that the proclamations aren’t as permanent as we want them to be.”