Secretary Zinke: Leave California’s National Monuments Alone

National monumentDuring his two terms in office, President Barack Obama designated or expanded more national monuments than any previous president, including several in California. One of the more unheralded aspects of his legacy is the millions of acres of protected public lands he left behind.

Shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump directed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all national monument designations going back to 1996, including those made not only by Obama, but also Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Late last month, Secretary Zinke delivered his recommendations to the White House. Unfortunately, this report has not been made public; only parts have leaked out. As the supporters and fans of dozens of monuments across America wait for potentially bad news, it is time that we Californians call on Secretary Zinke and President Trump to leave the Golden State’s monuments alone. There are several reasons for this.

First, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, originally signed by President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, national monument designation is a “one-way street.” Presidents may unilaterally designate or enlarge a monument, but only Congress has the authority to rescind that decision. Secretary Zinke, facing near-certain lengthy and expensive litigation should follow the tenets and spirit of the law.

Next, hundreds of thousands of Americans and visitors from all over the world visit California’s vast and incredible open spaces every year. As an avid outdoorsman, I take seriously the responsibility we have to protect the treasures nature has bestowed upon us, and ensure they’re conserved for future generations. I, like many other Californians, regularly enjoy the unique beauty of our public lands – I hope Secretary Zinke will take the opportunity to come visit and see for himself.

Lastly, the process the administration has employed has lacked the transparency and collaborative nature our national monuments deserves. During the Trump Administration’s four-month review period, more than 2.8 million Americans weighed in with public comment. Of all the public comments received nationally during the review, 99-percent of comments were in favor of keeping national monuments protected.

In the two-page summary of Zinke’s report – which is all that has been so far made public – he claimed that the supportive public comments merely reflected a “well-organized national campaign.” In truth, the depth and breadth of the wide array of Americans who spoke out to support national monuments from coast to coast is a powerful demonstration of real, popular support for national monuments.

There are countless stakeholders – from hunters and environmentalists to native tribes and local residents who deserved to have their voices and views heard in a fully, open and public forum.

The Interior Department and Secretary Zinke chose not to provide this outlet or public discussion and that is disappointing.

As a former political appointee in the administration of President George W. Bush, I fully understand the pressures at work around this issue (in fact, two of the national monuments created by President Bush fell under the Trump Administration’s review). Secretary Zinke, too, is a westerner, from Montana, and understands the precious nature of America’s monuments. I hope that he will overlook partisan political considerations and do what is right: Leave California’s monuments as they are: a precious asset to be enjoyed today and for many years to come.

Tim Isgitt is a Managing Director at Humanity United, overseeing the Strategic Communications portfolio. He served in the State Department in the Administration of George W. Bush.

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