Dear Secretary Zinke

On April 26, the president ordered the Secretary of the Interior to review national monuments created since 1996, ostensibly to look for “abuses” in application of the Antiquities Act. The review includes an opportunity for public comment. Modern Hiker wrote an excellent analysis of the Antiquities Act and provides instructions on how to comment.

Comments on Bears Ears National Monument are due May 26. Read more about Bears Ears here. Comments on the Antiquities Act and the rest of the national monuments are due July 10. Read about places at risk here.

Public input is critical to informing management of our public lands. Please submit a comment (limited to 5,000 characters, or the equivalent of just under 36 tweets) about changes to both the Antiquities Act and existing national monuments. Here are mine:

Comments on the Department of the Interior Review of National Monuments and the Antiquities Act

Dear Secretary Zinke:

As an environmental historian specializing in national parks and public lands, I write to oppose any changes to existing national monuments or to the Antiquities Act, by which Congress granted the president the power to proclaim national monuments.

The Antiquities Act is among the most important public lands legislation ever enacted. Its purpose is to enable the president to protect important archaeological, cultural, historical, scientific, and natural sites at risk of degradation or exploitation. By empowering the president to act quickly on behalf of the public interest, the Act provides a counterbalance to Congress’s often slow processes with regard to the disposition of public lands.

Congress already has the ability to create new national monuments. In fact, most public land designations must be enacted by legislation, including most types of national parks and statutory wilderness.

If Theodore Roosevelt had waited for congressional action, Devils Tower, El Morro, Chaco Canyon, and many other significant sites could have been lost to resource extraction, water impoundment, and looting.

The Act does not grant the president the power to vacate existing national monuments. It codifies the Progressive Era philosophy that the duty of government, informed by scientific fact, is to act for the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time.

A president’s designation of national monuments is not arbitrary. Proposed new monuments and parks are held to strict standards as explicated in the National Park Service’s “Criteria for New National Parks.” These standards require that the area under consideration:

  • “is an outstanding example of a particular type of resource.
  • “possesses exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of our Nation’s heritage.
  • “offers superlative opportunities for recreation for public use and enjoyment, or for scientific study.
  • “retains a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate, and relatively unspoiled example of the resource.”

Bears Ears and the other national monuments in the national parks system meet these criteria.

Nor are these monuments larger than necessary to protect the resources within them. Indeed, the Bureau of Land Management observed that Bears Ears National Monument is remarkably similar to the national monument proposed by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) in his unsuccessful 2016 Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI) legislation. The PLI proposal included 92 percent of the land in the current Bears Ears National Monument.

Existing oil, gas, and mining operations are not affected. New mineral, oil, geothermal and gas leases, claims, prospecting and exploration are prohibited – but the PLI would have also prohibited those uses. Livestock grazing, off-road vehicles, and fishing and hunting will continue so long as they are consistent with the purpose of the monument.

The Bears Ears proclamation requires that BLM and the Forest Service work with local, state, and tribal governments to create sensible management plans. It calls for the creation of advisory councils composed of local stakeholders to develop and implement these management plans. A management structure that puts the public interest front and center in decision-making has wide public support and deserves yours.

Bears Ears National Monument is considerably smaller than most of the interested parties wanted it to be, a concession to both local extractive resource and ranching interests and to Utah’s Congressional delegation. The area was already federal public land, so there is no “land grab” here or in any national monument. The Antiquities Act requires that monuments be created only from federal public land.

The main difference between the proclaimed national monument and that proposed in the PLI, in fact, seems to be that under President Obama the Department of the Interior worked closely with all of the interest groups involved in Bears Ears, including the tribes who have a cultural, historical, and deeply felt personal interest in the management of the area. Thus, the Bears Ears National Monument as proclaimed in 2016 is truly a product of public discussion and debate, and should not be altered.

The Antiquities Act is critical for protecting important places on federal public land. National monuments proclaimed by previous presidents and by Congress should be respected as established. Bears Ears National Monument and every other national monument on the review list meet the criteria for national monument designation and for inclusion in the national park system.

If you truly want to govern in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, please respect the Antiquities Act and its application by the president. I urge you to act in the public good and refrain from entering into what will no doubt be a long and costly legal battle by attempting to rescind, vacate, or alter any national monuments.


Lauren Danner, PhD


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About Lauren Danner

When I’m not out hiking on our public lands, I'm either buried in a book or writing about Pacific Northwest and environmental history, outdoor recreation, and public lands policy from my home near Puget Sound.
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