Public Interest Comment on The Department of the Interior’s Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996

Docket ID: DOI-2017-0002
Released: July 7, 2017


Jordan K. Lofthouse, PhD Fellow
Camille Harmer, Policy Analyst
Arthur R. Wardle, Policy Analyst
Megan E. Hansen, MS, Director of Policy
Landon C. Stevens, MPP, Director of Policy

Introduction and Background

The Department of the Interior’s request for comment on national monuments designated over the past twenty years responds to Executive Order 13792, issued by President Trump.[1] The Executive Order instructs the Secretary of the Interior to consider past designations’ adherence to statutory language in the Antiquities Act of 1906, among other criteria, including:

  1. The requirements and original objectives of the Act, including the Act’s requirement that reservations of land not exceed “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected”;
  2. whether designated lands are appropriately classified under the Act as “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, [or] other objects of historic or scientific interest”;
  3. the effects of a designation on the available uses of designated Federal lands, including consideration of the multiple-use policy of section 102(a)(7) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. 1701(a)(7)), as well as the effects on the available uses of Federal lands beyond the monument boundaries;
  4. the effects of a designation on the use and enjoyment of non-Federal lands within or beyond monument boundaries;
  5. concerns of State, tribal, and local governments affected by a designation, including the economic development and fiscal condition of affected States, tribes, and localities;
  6. the availability of Federal resources to properly manage designated areas.

The current review examines 21 recent national monument designations or enlargements: Basin and Range, Bears Ears, Berryessa Snow Mountain, Canyons of the Ancients, Carrizo Plain, Cascade-Siskiyou, Craters of the Moon, Giant Sequoia, Gold Butte, Grand Canyon-Parashant, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hanford Reach, Ironwood Forest, Mojave Trails, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Rio Grande del Norte, Sand to Snow, San Gabriel Mountains, Sonoran Desert, Upper Missouri River Breaks, and Vermilion Cliffs.

Strata is a public policy think tank based in Logan, Utah, that uses public choice theory and political economy to evaluate the legal and economic ramifications of government actions, especially as they relate to environmental policy. We are interested in the review of these national monuments because we are concerned about the rule of law, the abuse of government power, and the effects of government policies on a wide range of people. Our organization is composed of academics and policy professionals who engage in research to better understand the incentives behind government policies and the consequences that result from these policies.

With the Secretary’s criteria in mind, we find that many of the national monuments under review, as currently designated, do not comport with the Act’s requirements and original objectives. We also find that many designations do not “appropriately balance the protection of landmarks, structures, and objects against the appropriate use of federal lands and the effects on surrounding lands and communities.”[2]

Below, we have listed several of our conclusions that the Department of the Interior should consider in its review of recently established national monuments. The conclusions of our analysis are listed in the order we discuss them throughout the document.

  1. The creation of many recent national monuments seems to be motivated by presidents’ interest in building an environmental legacy, rather than the stated purposes of the Antiquities Act.
  2. Many monuments violate the law by being significantly larger than “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
  3. Many recent national monuments do not contain sites that are unique or specific enough to fulfill the “historic or scientific interest” clause of the Antiquities Act.
  4. Historical precedent gives ample evidence that the executive may unilaterally reduce the size of improperly large designations.
  5. Federal laws and regulations make monument designations superfluous in many cases because monuments do little to give additional protection to the amenities described in presidential proclamations.
  6. Federal agencies, including the National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management, suffer from backlogs and limited budgets that restrain how well they can manage large national monuments.

We also provide a specific comment on each of the 21 national monuments under review. Some of the national monuments under consideration appear to adhere to the statutory language of the Antiquities Act. Other monuments appear to violate that statutory language. We make a number of policy recommendations the President and Secretary could pursue in reevaluating national monuments.

Read the entire document here.

[1] Exec. Order No. 13792, 82 Fed. Reg. 82 (2017).

[2] Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996; Notice of Opportunity for Public Comment. 82 Fed. Reg. 90 (2017).