The Trump administration will soon reveal its plans to potentially shrink or eliminate 21 national monument designations.
Thursday is the deadline for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to issue recommendations to the White House for any changes he thinks President Trump should make to some of the vast protected areas of land and water that Trump’s predecessors created across the country.
Trump charged Zinke with that review in April, and administration officials are expected to reveal the potential changes soon.
The announcement will close a chapter on the administration’s highly contentious review that has fueled significant opposition among conservationists and support by Republicans and industries like oil and agriculture that use federal land.
Trump in April said the review would “end another egregious abuse of federal power” and “give that power back to the states and to the people, where it belongs.”
Zinke invited comments from the public on the review, the first time such a formal process has been taken for national monuments. He also traveled to many of the monuments and met with opponents and supporters.
Previous presidents made the designations under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that gives them power to unilaterally protect federal land or water from development.
President Obama boasted that he used the law to protect lands and marine areas than any other president.
But several of his designations were controversial, including the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off the New England coast.
All could be targets for reversal by Trump. Zinke may also ask that Congress take certain steps to change the monument designation process.
No president has eliminated a monument created by his predecessor before, and no court has weighed in on whether a reversal or even a reduction to a monument’s size is legal.
Environmentalists say the Antiquities Act doesn’t allow monument reductions without congressional action, and they’ve promised to sue if Trump tries it.
“If President Trump attempts to gut these special places in violation of the Antiquities Act and in spite of this roar of public support, Earthjustice will see him in court,” said Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice.
Republicans contend that if the Antiquities Act gave presidents the authority to create monuments, they obviously have the authority to revoke them.
“A presidential power to create permanent national monuments flies in the face of the plain text of federal law, the conventional relationship between presidents and Congress and historical understandings of executive power,” conservative attorneys Todd Gaziano and John Yoo wrote in Los Angeles Times.
Supporters and opponents of the national monuments have used the final days before Zinke’s deadline to amplify their arguments.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the League of Conservation Voters and the Western Values Project and the Center for Western Priorities have run advertising campaigns to pressure Zinke against any changes to existing monuments.
“People across the country have spoken out and shared their stories of the value these special places bring their communities, from boosting local economies to preserving our cultural heritage for the next generation. But Zinke is treating our national monuments like contestants on a reality TV show, and his anti-public lands allies in Congress are enabling this dangerous agenda,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski, whose group put a final $100,000 boost to its pro-monument campaign last week.
Those seeking to eliminate or shrink monuments have been less vocal, but they are optimistic that they have Zinke’s ear.
“President Trump’s decision to order a review of two decades of monument designations is a welcome sign for those concerned about Antiquities Act abuse,” said Jonathan Wood, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation.
Zinke has given some hints on what he will recommend. In June, he issued an interim report on Bears Ears, saying that it should be shrunk, but he did not specify the areas that should be removed.
He has also announced six national monuments that he believes should remain as they are: Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, Hanford Reach in Washington, Sand to Snow in California and Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana.
Zinke gave some clues to his feelings on some of the other ones when he visited them.
At Katahdin Woods and Waters, he said the area is “beautiful” and he didn’t see a reason to reduce its size, but he didn’t rule out changes.
“From what I hear I think all sides love the land, everyone appreciates public access and everyone appreciates that jobs matter. And who cannot say this is a beautiful site,” he said, according to Portland Press-Herald.
In Nevada, Zinke said he’s interested in focusing on the areas in that state’s two national monuments under review and ensuring they’re protected.
“The good thing is, I haven’t met anybody on either side that doesn’t love the land,” he said, according to Las Vegas Review-Journal. “So there’s in common on the monuments than there are opposites.”