Editors note: This is the first in a three part series looking at the myths perpetuated in the national discussion about national monuments and the Antiquities Act.
By Corey Fisher
The issue of national monuments and the Antiquities Act tends to elicit passionate responses, both for and against. It also spurs misconceptions.
On December 4, President Trump signed two executive orders that combined to cut 2 million acres of public land from Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. In doing so, these lands could be made available for energy development, including oil and gas leasing. The next day, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released his final recommendations from the Department’s review of 27 national monuments, including unspecified changes to the boundaries of Cascade-Siskiyou and Gold Butte national monuments, as well as amending proclamations to prioritize certain uses and weakening the Antiquities Act, the law that authorizes the creation of national monuments.
The two related moves set off a firestorm of criticism, not only due to the loss of public land protections, but also because of the Administration has been pushing an disputed narrative that national monuments create “harmful and unnecessary restrictions on hunting, ranching, and responsible economic development.”
When it comes to hunting and fishing, nothing could be further from the truth.
Sportsmen and women know that places like Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in California and Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks in New Mexico secure both habitat and access for some of the best hunting and fishing in the country.
Of the 27 national monuments that were identified for review by the Department of the Interior, not a single one has been closed to hunting or fishing. In one instance (Castle Mountains, CA) the Park Service made an administrative decision to close the area to hunting. However, this decision was not mandated by the monument proclamation; to the contrary, the proclamation specifies that the State of California’s jurisdiction over management of fish and wildlife would not be diminished. Considering that the Park Service is housed under the Department of the Interior, Secretary Zinke can and should revisit the Park Service’s decision in a manner consistent with the national monument proclamation.
The myth that hunting and fishing is restricted is just one example of the misconceptions surrounding national monuments.
There are plenty more. Here is our top twelve list:
Monumental Myth #1: National monuments are a land grab.
Fact: Only existing, federally-managed public lands can be designated as national monuments. These lands already belong to you and I and state or private lands are not included in monument designations. National monuments do not and cannot dictate how private landowners choose to use their lands.
Monumental Myth #2: National monuments lock out hunters and anglers.
Fact: National monuments provide some of the best hunting and fishing in the country. Just ask anyone who has fished the Arkansas River through Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado or drawn a coveted bull elk tag in the Upper Missouri River Break National Monument in Montana. Of the national monuments in the West identified for reviewe by the Department of the Interior, 100 percent of the public land available for hunting and fishing before they were designated as monuments is currently open for hunting and fishing after designation – not a single acre was closed. These lands will remain great for hunting and fishing precisely because they are protected as national monuments. Importantly, most modern monument proclamations explicitly state that fish and wildlife management authority will be retained by fish and wildlife management agencies, just as it was prior to designation.
Monumental Myth #3: The Antiquities Act was only intended to provide for the protection of archaeological objects.
Fact: The Antiquities Act has long been used to specifically protect both archaeological and natural features, including fish and wildlife habitat. For example, shortly after signing the Antiquities Act into law, Theodore Roosevelt designated Olympic National Monument for the purpose of protecting habitat for the Olympic Elk. For his efforts to protect this species, it was renamed in his honor as Roosevelt Elk.