The chaotic first months of Donald Trump’s presidency have provided historians and constitutional scholars with enough material to keep them busy for decades to come. This onslaught of news from the White House helps to explain why President Trump’s attempt to “undo” national monument designations — an unprecedented act by a president — has slipped below the public radar.
Since President Teddy Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906, 16 presidents have used the act to protect more than 150 national treasures from the Grand Canyon to Glacier Bay, Alaska, to Muir Woods right here in our own backyard. The act not only protects nature but helps us remember our history, preserving as national monuments sites such as Cesar Chavez’s home, the headquarters of the National Woman’s Party and Stonewall, one of the birthplaces of the LGBT civil rights movement.
Make no mistake: although Trump’s war on national monuments is prompted by the interests of Big Oil, this fight will not just be about the high-profile national monuments like Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. We will need to protect smaller and less-famous national monuments that will be next in the crosshairs, too. These parks, public lands and waters are central to our national identity and help define who we are as a nation. They are worth much more than the minerals beneath them.
The Antiquities Act has long enjoyed widespread and bipartisan public support, not only for the conservation benefits but because of the significant economic impacts of preserving U.S. public lands. Parks and public lands mean business for surrounding communities, drawing tourists from all over the world. In 2016 alone, National Parks saw a record 331 million visits, contributing almost $35 billion to the national economy. More than 26 million visitors came to the San Francisco Bay Area’s national parks last year, spending $823 million in our hotels, restaurants and businesses, supporting more than 10,000 local jobs and contributing more than $1 billion to the local economy.
No president has ever attempted to revoke any predecessors’ monument designation — no matter how controversial the designation might have been at first. That’s why President Trump’s executive order requiring the U.S. Department of Interior to make recommendations to possibly modify or rescind prior monument designations is so worrying. This approach threatens dozens of monuments established since 1996 and could directly undermine the protections that previous presidents have put in place.
The 120-day review ordered by Trump — or 45 days, in the case of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah — has the potential to completely upend the decades of work and engagement that surrounding communities have made in protecting these natural treasures for future generations. Though details relating to how the “review” will actually take place are still unknown, the Trump administration has signaled that it will not provide the transparency and public engagement that any honest review would include.
That means we need to act fast to demonstrate the depth of opposition to this monument repeal effort, as the Trump administration has signaled that further monuments may next be on the chopping block. Luckily, in California, we have a lot of people fighting to protect our national monuments, including California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has pledged to take any and all legal action necessary to protect California’s national monuments. Community leaders and elected officials up and down the state are also standing behind them.