President Donald Trump on Wednesday issued an executive order to review the designation of about two dozen national monuments since 1996, including the new Mojave Trails National Monument along Route 66 in Southern California.
However, the order may not be as grave as environmentalists and Route 66ers fear.
The president said he wanted to overturn “a massive federal land grab” by previous administrations that used the 1906 Antiquities Act to declare national monuments, according to a Associated Press report. The AP reported Trump’s move was mainly fueled by lawmakers from Utah:
In December, shortly before leaving office, President Barack Obama infuriated Utah Republicans by creating the Bears Ears National Monument on more than 1 million acres of land that’s sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.
Republicans in the state asked Trump to take the unusual step of reversing Obama’s decision. They said the designation will stymie growth by closing the area to new commercial and energy development.
USA Today compiled a list of the potentially affected national monuments that were designated by one Republican and two Democratic presidents over the last 21 years. In addition to the Mojave Trails National Monument, other possibly impacted sites that may be of interest to Route 66 travelers include Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona and Sand to Snow National Monument in Southern California.
A few observations:
— The executive order affects only national monuments since 1996 of 100,000 acres or more. That eliminates small sites such as Pullman National Monument in Chicago and the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Southern California. Nor will it affect older national parks cherished by Route 66ers such as Petrified Forest National Park and Grand Canyon National Park.
— The Associated Press said in another story that national monuments never have been challenged by a president. And if it happens, it almost certainly will be challenged in court:
The Antiquities Act does not explicitly say whether a president can nullify a monument proclamation. A legal analysis commissioned by the National Parks Conservation Association says no, pointing to a 1938 opinion by then-Attorney General Homer Cummings that a monument designation has the force of law and can be reversed only by Congress. A House report accompanying the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 agrees.
Longstanding legal opinions that have been given support from lawmaking bodies carry much weight in courtrooms. That’s not to say such opinions can’t be overturned, but it makes it less likely.
— Any attempt to rescind a national monument will get a big pushback from the public. A poll in 2016 showed national parks enjoyed support in the 70 percent to 80 percent range from Americans of all walks of life. More than 330 million people visited national parks in 2016.
With the Mojave Trails National Monument, a poll months before the designation showed the proposal enjoyed a 75 percent approval rate in California, including 62 percent of Republicans.
— Trump’s own Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, said he’s opposed to any big changes in the national parks system. From the AP:
He promises an open-minded approach and says he remains opposed to selling any federal land or transferring it to state or local control.
Given that fact, one could surmise Zinke will soft-ball his report once it’s due in 120 days.
— The AP report also says Zinke has been instructed to focus his review on Bears Ears National Monument, the one in Utah that’s created consternation with lawmakers.
I’ve found no report about Trump or the administration talking about the Mojave Trails National Monument and its 105 miles of Route 66. So it seems that one’s not high on his priority list.
It’s true two dozen national monuments could be in the president’s cross-hairs. But looking at the factors above, it wouldn’t surprise me if Trump simply ignores the review after it’s written.
(Screen capture image of Donald Trump signing the Antiquities executive order Wednesday)