Trump Wades Deeper into Fight over Public Lands

Yesterday the Trump Administration waded deeper into the fierce, on-going battle over America’s public lands. Alongside the head of the Interior Department, President Trump issued a new Executive Order that directs a special review of over 20 National Monuments designated since 1996, threatening to undermine decades of conservation work and weaken a key conservation tool used by presidents for a century, the Antiquities Act.

Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act grants presidents the authority to protect areas of ecological or cultural significance as national monuments, preserving these landscapes and vibrant ecosystems for generations to come. Nearly half of America’s National Parks such as the Grand Canyon and the Olympics started out as National Monuments. Almost every president from the past 100 years has used this tool to protect our nation’s natural and cultural heritage, and this includes members of both parties. 

Trump’s unprecedented move constitutes the most aggressive action against public lands yet taken by his nascent administration. The goal of the Interior Department review is to suggest modifications to the size of more than 20 national monuments, which may be the first step down a slippery slope towards revoking protections for thousands of acres of protected public land across the country. Attempting to shrink or rescind National Monuments designated by previous presidents is constitutionally unprecedented, but this is hardly surprising as this administration has proven to be unprecedented in almost every way.

The Executive Order comes at a time when conservative radicals are waging a full-out assault on America’s public lands, largely as a means to circumvent environmental protections and boost extractive profits. So far this year we’ve seen proposals in Congress to liquidate millions of acres of public lands, efforts in state legislatures to erode public ownership of our shared lands, and multiple attacks on the Antiquities act, one of the key conservation tools used by presidents in the past.

Put simply, Trump’s attack on the Antiquities act is an attack on America’s historical and natural heritage. Protected public lands are where Americans camp, fish, climb, hunt, float, and play, and polling consistently shows strong support amongst the general public for these land protections. Despite the numerous threats to National Monuments, more than 90% of Americans support the president’s ability to use the Antiquities Act to declare new national monuments. Senator Jeff Merkley echoed this sentiment yesterday when he said, “National monuments are American treasures that belong to the people. Only Congress has the power to undo a monument, and the president should back off of this legally dubious attack on our American tradition of public lands that are open to all.”

A recent poll instigated by Oregon Wild found that support for public lands protections is especially strong here in Oregon, where 70% of our state’s residents support creating more Wilderness Areas, an even stronger designation than National Monuments. The poll also found that 8 out of 10 Oregonians (91% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans) would be less likely to support a politician who had privatized or sold off public land in the past, demonstrating a strong consensus that eroding public ownership of our shared lands is deeply unpopular in our state.

As with Trump’s previous actions, yesterday’s Executive Order left ambiguity on its actual extent, such as whether or not Southern Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was subject to review. The monument, which was expanded earlier this year by the Obama Administration, seems to meet the necessary criteria for review, yet as of yesterday the very department meant to conduct the review remained unsure about Cascade-Siskiyou’s inclusion. 

By the end of this week, President Trump will have signed more Executive Orders in the first 100 days of a presidency than any other president since World War ​II. Yesterday’s order is only the most recent blow in a wave of attacks on the environment by an administration bent on unlocking natural resources for extractive profit. Trump’s decision to dive into the battle over America’s public lands yet again pits his administration in stark contrast with the the decided majority of the general public because his it threatens to undermine the public-lands-legacy at the core of our identity as Americans. #KeepItPublic

Photo Credits: 
Cascade-Siskiyou - Jim Chamberlain; Pilot Rock - Steven Holt