Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell offered a pointed criticism Wednesday of the current administration’s views on public lands — particularly of its decision to review 27 national monuments, with an eye towards altering or removing them. Jewell gave the remarks in a keynote address at Outdoor Retailer, the Outdoor Industry Association’s annual trade show in Utah.
“President Trump is putting himself on the wrong side of history,” Jewell said. “If he acts to revoke national monuments, he will go down as one of the most anti-conservation presidents in the history of this nation. And our national parks, our national monuments, and our public lands are what helps make this nation great.”
In April, Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to conduct a review of 27 national monument designations from the past 20 years. Current Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is leading the review and must provide recommendations to the White House on altering or revoking the monuments by August 24th. He has already recommended that Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be significantly cut in size.
Jewell’s speech addressed the review’s unpopularity, including the unprecedented number of public comments submitted to the Interior Department of which 98 percent were in support of keeping national monuments as they are. She also brought up that “the president does not have the authority to change monuments. Only Congress does.” Credible legal scholars, including 121 law professors, have agreed that the Antiquities Act does not grant the president the authority to eliminate or significantly alter a national park or national monument.
“If [President Trump] wants to conduct a review, it should be about what other places are deserving of monument status,” said Jewell, a former executive at REI. “It should not be about how to tear down the special places that… are part of our national identity and critical to our economy. In short, President Trump is playing games with our public lands — treating the monuments like they’re contestants on a game show — but the consequences… are real and devastating, and create uncertainty for businesses and uncertainty for residents, especially in gateway communities.”
At the same event, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) announced their release of new state-by-state numbers — the first in over four years — showing the importance of the $887 billion outdoor recreation industry for states. The numbers highlight the threat Secretary Ryan Zinke’s national monuments review poses to this growing economic sector that the targeted monuments help to support. For example, outdoor recreation is a $92 billion industry in California, but the administration is considering revoking six of the state’s national monuments. In Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments — two areas considered most at risk — help bolster that state’s $12.3 billion outdoor recreation economy.
After 20 years, this week’s outdoor retailer show marks the last time the show will take place Salt Lake City. OIA announced in February that it would move the show to another state, due to Utah politicians’ positions on public lands.
“We learned that Utah’s elected leadership were not only opposed to the Bears Ears National Monument, but there was talk in the state about selling off or transferring federal land,” said Amy Roberts, CEO of OIA. “The reaction from our industry was pretty swift. [OIA members] sent a pretty clear message… that it was time to find a new home that better supports our collected values. Industry unity in support of public lands is stronger than ever.”
Zinke recently announced some national monuments, including Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, will be exempt from his review. But advocacy groups point out that Zinke’s seemingly random “pardoning” of those monuments still leaves uncertainty for America’s public lands and the state outdoor recreation economies that depend on them.
Jenny Rowland is the research and advocacy manager for the public lands team at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed in the Center for American Progress Action Fund.