Local lawmakers and community leaders are wary about President Donald Trump’s call for a review of national monument designations, including two on the North Coast.
Trump is expected Wednesday to sign an executive order requiring Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to assess all national monuments designated since 1996 with an eye toward determining whether the process has been abused.
The federal action is widely regarded as a response to Republican outrage in Utah over former President Obama’s creation of the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in December.
Sonoma County’s two congressmen, a state lawmaker and Mendocino and Lake County community leaders said Obama’s designation of the sprawling Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in 2015 and the addition of a Mendocino seaside tract to the California Coastal National Monument in 2014 are unlikely targets for undoing. Both were created with strong local support.
“It’s disquieting,” said Lake County resident Victoria Brandon, chairwoman of the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club. But it’s more of a gesture and “not an imminent threat,” she said, contending there is “pretty strong legal opinion” that a monument designation cannot be removed.
Rep. Mike Thompson, a St. Helena Democrat who was involved in gaining both designations, said Trump’s anticipated move may be part of an effort to burnish his resume for his first 100 days in office.
But, he said, the administration’s actions bear watching.
“I think there’s all kinds of reasons to be vigilant,” Thompson said. “I know the environmental community is arming for the worst.”
A national monument is a federally owned geographic area or historic site given permanent protection by Congress or the president. It generally allows for existing commercial and recreational uses.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican whose district covers the vast northeast corner of California, supports Trump’s impending action and has “always believed that monument designations should come before Congress for a vote,” said Parker Williams, an aide.
Republicans have chafed for years over recent Democratic presidents’ use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to unilaterally protect federal lands and waters. Sixteen presidents, including all but three of those who have served since Theodore Roosevelt, have used the act to designate 157 national monuments, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.
Obama created or expanded 34 monuments, the most by any president.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a news release last week that Obama’s designation of Bears Ears ignored the united opposition of state leaders and “the voices of the local Utahns most affected by this massive land grab.”
Zinke, who is Trump’s appointee as interior secretary, is a former Montana congressman and retired Navy SEAL commander. He has a 4 percent lifetime score of a possible 100 from the League of Conservation Voters for his congressional voting record on key environmental, public health and energy issues.
Thompson has a 93 percent lifetime score and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, a 99 percent mark.
Huffman, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, labeled the Trump move “largely cosmetic,” an exercise that “could just be preparing another recitation of the gripes we’ve heard from Republicans for years about monument designations.”
If it marks, instead, the start of an effort to limit or repeal the Antiquities Act, “that’s another story,” Huffman said, but he thinks it is intended “just to feed the [political] base.”
Thompson said there was “tremendous community support” for the Berryessa and Mendocino monument designations. “If the evaluation is done on the up and up, these properties would pass with flying colors.”
Designation of the 330,780-acre Berryessa monument, a 100-mile expanse from Lake Berryessa to Snow Mountain in the Mendocino National Forest, culminated a seven-year grass-roots campaign, Brandon said.
About 700 people, including former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, attended the belated celebration hosted by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service last year at Cowboy Camp in eastern Lake County, she said.
Brandon said the most likely threat to the monument would come from congressional budget action eliminating funding to “protect the values on the ground.”
Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, who lobbied for creation of the Berryessa monument, said it “turned my community into a destination.” Winters is a city of about 7,200 in rural Yolo County near the south end of the monument.
Federal funds would be “better spent protecting our nation’s vulnerable monuments, rather than on reviewing whether they should be protected in the first place,” said Aguiar-Curry, a former Winters mayor whose district includes Rohnert Park and the unincorporated areas of Sonoma Valley.
In 2014, the 1,665-acre Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands became the first land-based portion of the California Coastal National Monument, which covers more than 20,000 small islands, seastacks, rocks and reefs along 1,100 miles of the California coast.
The Mendocino coastal town of Point Arena held a community celebration, culminating the 2½-year campaign to protect the publicly accessible 3-mile stretch of coastline south of the Point Arena Lighthouse and Manchester Beach.
“It certainly put Point Arena on the map,” said John McCowen, chairman of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. Tourism has become the “economic mainstay” of the Mendocino coast, he said, owing to the decline of the timber and fishing industries.
McCowen said the president’s order for a review of monument designations is “not a realistic threat at this point” for the county.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @guykovner.