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PD Editorial: Preserve national monuments and marine sanctuaries

A hiker walks on a rock formation known as the Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. (BRIAN WITTE / Associated Press, 2013)

THE EDITORIAL BOARD, BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Almost a week has passed since Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke presented the White House with his recommendations regarding the future of 27 national monuments.

Yet neither the president nor the secretary has shared the recommendations with the public — the people who own the land in question.

More than 3 million Americans submitted comments during the four-month review ordered by President Donald Trump, and nine in 10 were opposed to revoking protections for public land set aside for posterity under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Surely, these people would like to know the recommendations and what Trump plans to do with them.

So would people who live near the monuments on the list and members of Congress whose districts encompass those monuments.

To date, however, the administration has released only excerpts from right-wing websites praising the decision to reconsider monument designations by Trump’s three most-recent predecessors.

The refusal to share the report, coupled with news accounts saying that Zinke recommended scaling back at least four monuments, reinforces fears that the president already has decided to open millions of acres of protected public land predominantly in Western states to mining, grazing and fossil-fuel development.

Zinke said he didn’t recommend elimination of any monument. That’s good news, but it leaves plenty of room for executive actions that could cause irreparable harm to environmentally and historically sensitive landscapes.

The monuments aren’t the only target of Trump administration efforts to open public lands to energy development. A separate review of protected expanses of ocean, including the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, seeks to identify areas that could be opened for offshore drilling.

Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have used their legal authority to protect historic and cultural resources by setting aside public land, including the Grand Canyon, Muir Woods, the Little Bighorn battlefield and Pinnacles. In ordering the review of national monuments, Trump described the designations as “a massive federal land grab” and an “abusive practice.”

His executive order said protecting public land undermines efforts to achieve energy independence and harms the economy. The order also claimed that presidents designated monuments without consulting local governments and nearby residents.

But the record shows otherwise. The United States has never been closer to energy independence in the industrial era, per-capita income is higher in Western communities adjacent to protected public lands than it is in counties with no protected land, and past presidents heard from an array of interests before designating monuments.

Consider Berryessa Snow Mountain in Northern California, one of the monuments under review. President Barack Obama established it after a decade of information gathering and appeals by supporters, including businesses, conservation groups and local governments.

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which, according to news reports, could be reduced in size by as much as 90 percent, was the subject of seven years of public debate before its designation. Resource extraction interests simply are unhappy that Obama sided with conservation groups and Native Americans who sought protection of the land.

Trump is wrong. This isn’t “a land grab,” and these unique places shouldn’t be exploited for oil, gas and coal. These monuments and marine sanctuaries are national treasures that should be preserved for generations to come.