Antiquities Act Executive Order Calls for Review of Large Designations

The Executive Order does not roll back the Antiquities Act nor rescind any designations made by presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, or Obama, but does call for their review if over 100,000 acres. President Trump feels that the act has been misused.

4 minute read

April 28, 2017, 11:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

"President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday instructing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review any national monument created since Jan. 1, 1996, that spans at least 100,000 acres in a move he said would 'end another egregious use of government power'," reports Juliet Eilperin.

A U.S. Department of Interior press release clarified what the Antiquities Act Executive Order, signed on April 26, does and does not do, and why President Trump felt it was needed. 

What the Executive Order doesn’t do:

  • This Executive Order does NOT strip any monument of a designation.
  • This Executive Order does NOT loosen any environmental or conservation regulations on any land or marine areas.

As a February post, "Revoking a National Monument Not Easy, Even with Republican Congress, notes, only Congress can rescind a national monument. However, Rebecca Leber, a Mother Jones reporter covering climate, environment, and energy politics, writes that presidents can "shrink monuments."

Woodrow Wilson, for example, shrunk Washington State's Mt. Olympus National Monument to open up more than 300,000 acres to logging, but he didn't face lawsuits over the decision as Trump almost certainly will.

The executive order is essentially aimed at what the Trump administration believes was an overreach of the application of the Antiquities Actsigned into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, beginning with Clinton administration's designation on September 18, 1996 of the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah and ending with President Obama's designation on December 28, 2016 of the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, also in Utah.

"That should include about 24 to 40 monuments," stated Zinke in the White House press briefing.

The DOI press release emphasizes the importance of the size of the designations, suggesting that presidents have abused the act not in the designations themselves, but their size.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the president to declare federal lands of historic or scientific value to be national monuments by designating the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” 

Zinke referenced this clause in his statement, and explained why only designations exceeding 100,000 acres will be targeted for review.

"Despite this clear directive 'smallest area' has become the exception and not the rule. Under the President's leadership, I will work with local, state and Tribal governments to review monument designations made the past 20 years and make sure they work for the local communities."

"The executive order directs the Interior to provide an interim report to the President within 45 days of the day of the order and a final report to the President within 120 days of that order," according to The White House.

Rescission/reduction is popular in Utah

Thomas Burr and Brian Maffly of The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Tuesday that "Utah leaders have been pressing the White House to rescind the Bears Ears designation as well as trim the 1.8 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument."

A new poll out Tuesday showed a majority of Utahns, 52 percent, support reducing the 1.35 million acres of the Bears Ears monument or jettisoning the designation altogether. Some 41 percent said Trump should not take any action on the monument, according to the poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates and commissioned by

State legislation was signed by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert in February to request President Trump to rescind the designation of Bears Ears National Monument and reduce or modify the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. 

However, the Outdoor Industry Association "pulled its major trade show out of Utah in protest of the state government’s opposition to the establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument," notes Eilperin of The Washington Post. The group contests that designation leads to loss of jobs in their statement on the executive order and is gearing to resist Zinke's recommendations, notes a post on Wednesday.

During the question and answer part of The White House press briefing, Zinke responded to a question, "Do you worry, though, that this will lead to the transfer of land?"

SECRETARY ZINKE:  "No.  I’ve heard that argument; I think that argument is false."

Energy industry

As noted in the February post, "A national monument designation generally means new development — like oil and gas drilling, expansion of cattle grazing — is off limits. Only the existing leases that are grandfathered in can be developed." No doubt that influenced President Trump, as these designations would appear to conflict with his "America First Energy Plan."


"In signing this order, Trump is effectively saying that nothing is off the table, including the sacrifice of some of our most sacred parks and historic sites to pay back his fossil fuel-backed allies in Congress," said Dan Hartinger, deputy director of parks and public lands defense at The Wilderness Society.

Shaun Chapoose, the highest elected officeholder of the Ute Indian Tribe, also expressed his opposition, reports Eilperin.

“Bears Ears National Monument is more than just mere federal land to us, as it may be to many other stakeholders — it is a living landscape; it has a pulse. It is offensive for politicians to call the Bears Ears National Monument ‘an abuse’.”

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 in The Washington Post

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