In this guest post by Shawn Regan, a research fellow and the director of publications at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Montana, looks at the fact that to acquire rights to natural resources in the West, you must use the resource. This is an obvious barrier to many would-be environmentalist bidders.
Wildfire is causing needless loss of life and resources. Last year, the Camp Fire that burned in northern California took 85 lives, destroyed nearly 19,000 structures, and burned 153,000 acres. Efforts to prevent a similar tragedy this year led to intentional blackouts that left millions without electricity. Yet the fires rage again, consuming 75,000 acres this year. Wildfires across the west burn on average 7 million acres annually.
Fire-fighting now takes up more than half of the Forest Service’s annual budget, leaving few dollars for restoring forests and preventing future fires. A century of fire suppression and decades of reduced commercial harvest have increased forest density and left an accumulation of fuels on the forest floor. Add that to a drier climate and residential development expanding on the forest edge, and the mix is a design for disaster.
As part of his program to remove the government’s boot-heel off the neck of state governments and American workers and businesses, candidate Donald Trump promised to review and, where appropriate, reverse where he felt it was justified, national monuments declared not just by Obama but going back two decades. As I discussed here, using the Antiquities Act has been a favorite technique of many presidents to satisfy pressures from environmentally powerful constituents.
Within months of taking office, Trump issued an executive order directing then-Interior Department secretary Ryan Zinke to review all presidential monument designations or expansions of more than 100,000 acres since January 1, 1996, to ensure they were limited strictly to the smallest area necessary to care for the objects or features to be protected. At the time, Trump called the size and number of national monuments created by Obama “an egregious abuse of power.
Going back to January 1, 1996, was not coincidental. At that time President Bill Clinton created the 1,880,461-acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, in Utah, also against the state’s entire congressional delegation’s wishes. The Grand Staircase declaration was as controversial in its time as the 2016 Bears Ears designation by Obama.
By September 2017, Zinke recommended the president shrink the size and/or modify the management of at least 10 national monuments. In particular, Zinke recommended reducing the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, Nevada’s Gold Butte, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou. He also recommended shrinking two marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean and amending the proclamations for 10 monuments to allow for various commercial activities previously allowed in these areas but now restricted.
On December 5, 2017, Trump reduced the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument by approximately 800,000 acres, to just over 1 million acres, and shrunk the Bears Ears National Monument from 1.35 million acres to 201,876 acres.
The 1906 Antiquities Act was one of the most ill-considered laws ever written, giving presidents dictatorial power to declare large swaths of the public’s land off limits to a variety of uses normally allowed on federal lands. Under President Barack Obama, this power turned into a monument acquisition spree.
The Antiquities Act grants the president discretionary power “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest … to be national monuments.” Congress originally passed the law as an emergency measure to prevent the looting of antiquities on Indian lands. It was intended, as the debate surrounding it shows, only to be used when public lands or artifacts faced immediate threats of destruction and the normal pace of congressional action might take too long to prevent harm.
John A. Baden is founder and chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), located in Bozeman, Montana. Baden, who received his Ph.D. in political science from Indiana University in 1969, was a leader in developing the New Resource Economics, an incentive-based approach to environmental and natural resource management. He has…
Director of outreach and a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC). For two decades, her research has focused on public lands policy and property rights. As an outdoor enthusiast, Fretwell strives to enhance conservation through cooperation and entrepreneurship.