The National Monuments Decision

In May I wrote about the Fight for Federal Lands. After the President’s decision this week to dramatically shrink two national monuments, it seemed prudent to re-visit the conversation…

On Monday the President announced his intention of reducing the national monument designations for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly 2 million acres. Several lawsuits have already been filed, the most prominent coming from outdoor apparel company Patagonia. While this writer is impressed with the conservation work done by Patagonia, they unnecessarily veered into hyperbole with their declarative statement that “The President Stole Your Land.”  The truth is that the land was always federal land and will remain in federal hands. The President has made it clear in the past that he does not agree with transferring federal lands to the states so the (potential) change of designation simply means that it will be managed differently. The dispute here is about conservation verses preservation. President Trump believes we should open some lands up to revenue-generating activities like oil extraction or logging, rather than closing them to those activities along the lines of a pure preservation model.

Patagonia is challenging the legality of the President undoing a national monument designation. The truth is that this has been done in the past, just not on the scale we saw this week.

I would greatly encourage readers to listen to Steven Rinella’s brief statement on the issue. He wisely recommends a cautious but guarded approach. He also makes a worthwhile point that both parties have room to improve on wildlife issues. He states that while the Left is generally good at protecting habitat and animals, they are not so good at protecting the rights of hunters and anglers. On the flip side, while the Right does a good job of defending the rights of hunters and anglers, they are generally not very good at protecting habitat and animals. If I’m being honest I’m tempted to give the Left more of a pass here, simply because they don’t know any better. Many on that side of the aisle unfortunately see hunting and fishing as antiquated pastimes and they don’t understand the huge amount of science that goes into successful wildlife management and keeps our game animals plentiful. To the contrary, the Right should know better. Most educated conservatives know the Republican legacy of conservation and those that support monetizing federal lands are making a devil’s bargain with private interests and willfully ignoring the most likely outcomes.


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Mike Dwyer is a writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture and the outdoors for Ordinary Times. He is also one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky. Mike is active on Facebook and Instagram. He lives with his wife and daughters in the distant suburbs, at the place where neighborhoods give way to farms and forest.

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23 thoughts on “The National Monuments Decision

  1. I think “the left” here is pretty vague. There are hunters and fishermen in the enviro movement. It’s not quite as stark as you present it. Plenty in enviro movement are friendly to that side. Not all of course….heck no. Actually enviro groups up here have supported Alaska Natives desire to hunt whales since it a sustainable and a traditional activity. Animal rights activists are, of course, not that thrilled to say the least.

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    • One thing I will say about my writing is that I’ve never been very cautious about Left/Right generalizations. Perhaps it represents laziness on my part, but while I 100% agree with you that there is nuance to both sides, I think Left-leaning environmental groups are mostly not friendly to hunters and anglers (fisherman do have it slightly better, but not by much).

      I’ve only been to Alaska once so I am not by any means an expert, but as an outsider it seems to me that AK is a bit like Montana in that hunting and fishing are so much a part of the culture that they don’t break down along political lines nearly as much as they do here in the East. Is that a fair statement?

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      • I dunno about Alaska but it’s a fair statement about many western states, not just Montana. I would say, Colorado, NM, and Utah (yes, there is a Left in Utah) are very similar in that way… and there might be more that I’m just not as familiar with.

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          • Trapping is often outlawed due to other concerns. I know hunters who are anti-trapping because of bad experiences with their dogs dying on their *own land* due to snares and traps put there by others, that were legal at the time. (This was in NS.)

            I’m just saying, we have a crapload of left-voting, enthusiastic Democrats – as well as people who I would describe as social libertarians, political Republicans, who vote liberal on a lot of things – in this state who are also hunters. Most of ’em live in cities — but most of ’em spend a lot of time not in cities, like every dang weekend that it isn’t too cold to leave.

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            • ^This wrt trapping. It’s not just people in cities who turn on traps. In fact, I’d say the majority of folks who make it an issue to ban them come from the sort of area Mike Dwyer lists as his home in his bio: far suburbs bordering on woods. People living in those places have seen traps have kill pets. I even know someone whose kid was badly injured by one because he was being a normal 10 yr old boy and went out to poke around in the woods behind his home.

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          • The joke in the hunting community is that as soon as 51% of the population lived in cities, trapping was doomed.

            They’re aware that (a) ≥51% of the Colorado population has lived in cities for at least several decades (and quite possibly for a century); and (b) it’s a partial ban on certain types of traps (some types of leghold traps and snares designed to kill by suffocation), right?

            The West has almost never been as rural as folks — particularly folks out East — want to believe. Based on US Census Bureau defined regions, in the last census the West and the Northeast were tied for least-rural population percentage.

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            • I should have added, the ballot initiative passed (with 52% of the vote, in a state that was >80% urban/suburban population) largely because the trappers had no answer to the question, “Why should you be allowed to continue a hobby — and no one makes a living at it — using tools/methods that maim/kill some number of protected species each year?”

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        • Oh, and Wyoming of course, though left people in Wyoming are even rarer than left people in Utah :P. They do exist though, and many of them kill things and then eat them (or catch them and then throw them back).

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      • Yeah that is fair statement about Ak. Hunting and fishing is common here so most people know hunters/fishermen. It is not an oddity as it is some places back east. We also have a large Alaska Native/Native American population where subsistence hunting/fishing is super important so most lefties/enviros deeply respect and support that. The best case for me is not being a hunter/fisherman but living next to one or working with one who will give your freebies.

        The biggest conflicts are over things like bear baiting or wolf control. Many hunters up here would come off as rabid enviros in some places and have little patience for some hunting practices. Some of the harshest critics of hunters i’ve heard and come from other hunters ( bow hunters or sheep or mountain goat hunters since they take a lot of skill to hunt)

        There is a often big difference i think between enviros in the West and those who live far from wilderness areas ( the east). Also animal rights people have very different opinions then strict environmentalists. There is some overlap though. Some of the harshest environmentalist stuff about hunting often comes from people who are more on the animal rights side.

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  2. I think the point about hunters and wildlife management is very well-taken.

    Humans have eliminated or displaced the large number of predators (wolves, bears, wild cats) in American wild spaces, at least in the lower 48 states. Consequently, ungulates like deer and elk are plentiful and can easily overbreed. That leads to encroachment on human spaces and degredation of farmland and suburban spaces, over-consumption of new forest growth preventing new plants from growing and ultimately, starvation for an over-large herd which is a pretty cruel fate for these animals. The management solution here is for humans to fill the role that predators used to, and that’s mainly done by hunters.

    Fishing may be a bit of a different story on a systemic basis because landborne predators aren’t as big a factor there and overfishing may be in play in certain riparian systems, but if there has been overfishing, humans can fix it with appropriate management, licenses, and maintenance of seeded breedstock.

    Point is, if we want clean water and thriving forests and functional wild food chains, anymore we humans need to intelligently manage the inputs and outputs of the those systems. I’m pretty sure that open pit uranium mining isn’t likely to be a part of that picture, but the land need not be a national monument in order to keep the environment functional and available for public enjoyment.

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    • You are correct that we don’t need a national monument to keep people from dumping mining wastes into rivers. In fact, monument status often interferes with hunting access. So I’m okay with reducing the size of these monuments provided they remain in federal hands AND are treated carefully.

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      • In fact, monument status often interferes with hunting access.

        Cites for monuments declared in the last 25 years? At Grand Staircase, for example, wildlife management remains in Utah’s hands, and they issue some thousands of big-game tags annually. Most of the complaints are about future restrictions — at the local level, potential new roads for improved grazing access, and by the big coal/oil/gas interests who won’t be allowed increased access (existing operations continue). New roads may still be allowed, but USFS and BLM have to consider some additional factors as part of the approval process.

        Western state political classes have long institutional memories, and in the past there was a lot of heavy-handed (and sometimes stupid) federal management. Trump appears determined to return to those days. Several states from South Dakota to California spent a decade hammering out a bunch of regulations between a whole bunch of stakeholders for habitat and species preservation while still allowing other uses (up to and including natural gas drilling). Trump unilaterally ordered BLM to pull out of those agreements, which will probably result in considerable loss of game to hunt in the long run.

        Possibly worth noting: Montana acquaintances say that Zinke has a very different speech when he’s back home in Montana, where he has expressed a desire to eventually run for governor.

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  3. If Trump didn’t have stakes in oil companies, I would be more sanguine about him moving to open federal lands up to oil extraction. (I still wouldn’t like it but I’d be more open-minded about it.)

    As it is, I can kind of see where Patagonia is coming from with the “stole” verb – while recognizing that their real problem is that they want people to buy more hiking equipment…

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  4. Note that the antiquities act refers to significant features, and the question is what is significant. Prior examples in UT include both Natural Bridges NM as well as what are now National Parks of Capitol Reef and Arches and parts of Zion (the unknown part of it with its own exit off I 15 Kolob canyons, when the main valley is overrun, in June there is no one at Kolob Canyons for example.) But I do think it is clear that in an area of over 1 million acres not everything can be significant. Further if we are talking about ruins, how does national monument protect the archeological features any better given that there is unlikley to be a significant increase in the budget for patroling. (I suspect you have to move to cctv to monitor ruins. and possibly parking areas near ruins). But given that we don’t have the money to install warning systems at slot canyons to keep folks from drowning, where would we find the money?

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    • “Further if we are talking about ruins, how does national monument protect the archaeological features any better…”

      The feds allow natural resource extraction on federal land all the time, which can destroy archaeological features. My understanding is that national monument status is intended to ‘preserve’ the area which would keep those features safe. Yes, theft is also a problem but not on the scale that a mine or oil drilling would harm.

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      • I also think that given the way extraction companies never seem to pay anywhere near the value of the lease for mining or oil drilling, let alone the cost of clean up afterward, that ‘stole’ isn’t entirely wrong in characterizing Trump’s move here. I mean, you say the land belongs to the federal govt, but in reality that ought to mean that it belongs to *us* – to all Americans.

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