Monument review gives park status new urgency
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met President Donald Trump’s 45-day deadline to produce an interim report on Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument with no final plan to accompany his initial recommendations.
Zinke informed the president on Monday that he was delaying a decision until later in the year, but it’s clear what’s coming. Zinke recommended that Bears Ears be reduced in size. Instead of the monument designation, which prevents a range of development, Zinke said some of Bears Ears’ 1.3 million acres should be designated for conservation or recreation.
If Zinke sticks to that recommendation in his final report and Trump takes executive action to amend Bears Ears’ boundaries, it will likely touch off a legal battle that should answer once and for all whether a president has such authority.
On Sunday’s front page, the Sentinel’s Dennis Webb consulted numerous legal scholars about the likelihood that such presidential action would survive a legal challenge.
We’re inching closer to a time when national monuments may be changed or undone altogether with the stroke of a pen. The irony is that Congress gave stroke-of-a-pen authority to presidents to designate monuments under the Antiquities Act precisely because they could move quickly to protect public lands and artifacts.
The point here is that the president may have ordered his review of national monuments with a focus on recent designations. But once the authority to overturn or amend monuments is confirmed, where’s the line? What would stop a future president from deciding that Colorado National Monument, for example, wasn’t a national treasure in need of the highest form of protection?
That’s why national park status for Colorado National Monument should take on a renewed urgency for our community. Once a park bill passes both houses of Congress, no president would have the authority to change anything.
Members of our congressional delegation have made it clear they don’t support a review of the monuments already in existence in Colorado. It shouldn’t be hard to enlist their support for park status for CNM given the current state of affairs. In fact, one of the advantages of a unified government — in which one party controls both chambers and the executive office — is the ability to get things done quickly. Leadership by Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton could get us a national park in expedited fashion.
A change in designation is a name change. That’s it. There’s no change in protection, funding or restrictions. A national park increases the likelihood of more tourism without encumbering the community with any more federal authority than already exists. But it puts authority for changes in the hands of Congress instead of the president, which suddenly looks to be a very big deal.