The comment period for the Trump administration’s national monument review has officially ended, and the administration if facing stiff public backlash over its attempt to downsize national monuments across the West.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April directing the Department of the Interior to review two decades’ worth of national monument designations in an effort to decide whether to rescind, modify, or maintain their designations. The review encompasses 21 monuments, mostly located in the Western United States, from New Mexico to Washington.
The review’s public comment period, which lasted for 60 days, elicited more than 2.5 million responses. According to a Center for Western Priorities analysis of the 654,197 comments that had been processed by Interior Department staff as of Monday morning, 98 percent were supportive of maintaining or expanding current national monument boundaries, while just 1 percent supported the idea of shrinking monuments.
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club encouraged members to comment, but green groups were far from the only organizations to submit feedback during the public comment period. Outdoor retailers, as well as hunting and fishing groups, for instance, encouraged members to submit comments in support of maintaining current monument designations.
“America has spoken loud and clear: protect and enhance national monuments, don’t eliminate them,” Jennifer Rokala, the Center for Western Priorities’ executive director said on Monday. “It’s not too late for Interior Secretary Zinke to heed the word of an overwhelming majority of Americans by upholding Bears Ears National Monument and the dozens of other natural wonders under attack. Unfortunately, this administration, under Secretary Zinke’s leadership, has demonstrated its priority is carrying water for special interests and not working on behalf of all Americans.”
Democratic lawmakers also took to the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to decry the Trump administration’s review, which many characterized as a thinly-veiled attempt to open up more federal land to oil and gas interests.
“Erasing America’s national monuments from the map would devastate our thriving outdoor recreation economy, which generates 68,000 jobs and $6.1 billion of annual economic activity in New Mexico alone,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) said during the press conference. “And it could easily lead us down a slippery slope toward the sell-off of our public lands to the highest bidder and massive giveaways of public resources to special interests.”
During the campaign, Trump pledged to open up federal lands to oil and gas drilling.
Several recently-designated monuments have been the target of Republican lawmakers, primarily the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which President Obama designated in December of 2016. The designation, which was granted after a proposal from five indigenous tribes, meant that oil and gas companies would not be allowed to drill or mine for minerals in some 1.35-million acres of the state. On June 13, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released a recommendation calling for Bears Ears to be downsized, which Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a fierce opponent of the national monument, called “ an unquestionable victory for Utah.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) — the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — pledged to fight any attempt to rollback protections for Bears Ears.
“The Trump administration’s move to review several national monuments for possible reductions in protection is unprecedented and an assault on our nation’s collective heritage,” Cantwell said. “I will fight any attempt to undermine protection for Bears Ears or any other national monument every step of the way.”