Why Monuments Matter

Can you imagine an America without the Statue of Liberty or Grand Canyon? Trump's new executive order threatens such testaments to our national heritage.
Credit: iStock

Can you imagine an America without the Statue of Liberty or Grand Canyon? Trump's new executive order threatens such testaments to our national heritage.

On Wednesday, President Trump will unveil his latest effort to undermine our bedrock environmental protections. He will reportedly sign an executive order requiring Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to carry out a review of every national monument created in the past 21 years—both onshore and off.

Spoiler alert: The review is likely to find that many monuments should be eliminated or shrunk dramatically.

Local input has already happened.

Congressional Republicans and anti–public lands advocates loudly proclaim that monuments are created unilaterally, without local input. In fact, plenty of evidence demonstrates otherwise. Take Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, for example. Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell communicated as early as 2013 with Utah’s members of Congress about the Bears Ears area and stayed in regular contact with them until monument designation. Jewell spent three days last July listening to hundreds of local voices as she was evaluating the need for designation.

Americans want their public lands and waters protected.

No president has attempted a sweeping review like this before—for good reason.

Most Americans don’t want to see monuments’ protections removed. The public overwhelmingly supports national parks and monuments. Trump’s threat to the 54 monuments created or expanded in the past 21 years is wildly out of step with public opinion.

The truth is that Trump’s executive order is just the latest attempt in a losing effort to privatize American public lands and waters. In the past few years, we have seen legislation to sell off public lands, reduce law enforcement on public lands, and divest millions of acres of public lands to states that can’t afford to manage them. Many of these bills—none of which have gone anywhere in Congress—were sponsored or supported by Utah’s congressional delegation, who have been the loudest voices lobbying Trump to act, in large part due to their displeasure over Bears Ears, which President Obama created after years of negotiations and public outreach.

Monuments enrich local communities as well as the rest of us.

Any honest, fact-based review of national monuments will reveal them for what they are: testaments to our nation’s heritage that enrich local communities and protect our most imperiled cultural and natural resources. But this won’t be that kind of review. Signed at the behest of anti–public lands members of Congress—the Utah delegation in particular—Trump’s order will undoubtedly set into motion a slow-moving assault on existing monuments and one of our most important and beloved conservation tools: the Antiquities Act.

Over a century ago, Congress created the Antiquities Act to deputize presidents to protect America’s cultural, historical, and natural heritage for future generations—a power that has been used by eight Republican and eight Democratic presidents to safeguard iconic areas including the Statue of Liberty, Muir Woods, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon, which was a national monument before it gained national park status.

Our national monuments make America great. 

Let’s keep it that way. Let’s put our time and resources into managing our monuments well, rather than debating whether they should exist.