The president and his Cabinet believe that shrinking our national monuments is in the best interest of the public and the American economy. They are wrong. In November, on the steps of the State Capitol in Salt Lake City, President Donald Trump announced that he would be trying to reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah by more than 2 million acres, or about the same size as Yellowstone National Park. This controversial decision came at the urging of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke after a review of more than two dozen monuments in the Western United States, including Craters of the Moon in Idaho.
Secretary Zinke’s reasoning for this reduction was that monument designations “harms communities by restricting traditional uses of the land such as grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and recreation.” This reasoning goes against the consensus of the American people, as 98 percent of public comments were in favor of keeping the current protections in place. Zinke’s reasoning would also harm the economy as nearby communities benefit from national monument designations. A 2017 study by the nonpartisan and not-for-profit research group Headwaters Economics found, “Across the board, trends in important economic indicators either continued or improved in each of the regions surrounding the 17 national monuments studied.” Locally in 2011, visitors to Craters of the Moon National Monument contributed more than $6 million to local economies and supported 81 jobs.
What Zinke’s short-sighted recommendation has done is to open the conversation for those advocating for local control over federally managed public lands. One of the staunchest of those advocates is Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, who once introduced a bill requiring state approval of a national monument designation and is currently running for governor on a platform of state control of public lands in Idaho. However, what Zinke, Labrador and their supporters fail to understand is that federal lands are owned by all Americans equally, regardless of geographic location. Therefore, all Americans should have equal input into how those lands are managed.
Rolling back protections to the monuments in Utah is the wrong decision, but it could unfortunately be just the beginning. Several other monuments in Nevada and Oregon are rumored to be the next targets, and all of the administration’s moves are going to be met with legal challenges. Idahoans should be angry at Trump’s decision, as national monuments are an important part of our landscape and deserve to remain protected.
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J.D. Miller is the treasurer for the Idaho chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He lives in Eagle.