Our Voice: National Monuments Still Need Defense

By:  Editorial Board
Source: The Tri-City Herald

Mid-Columbians were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief when it recently was announced the Hanford Reach National Monument would be left alone.

However, three other national monuments were not so fortunate.

Those Washingtonians who rallied to save our own should now offer that same fervor to help protect the unfortunate areas that ended up on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hit list.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument along Oregon’s southern border and Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments have been recommended for modification.

Legal challenges are certain to follow any effort to reduce the size of these marked monuments, and taxpayers will foot the bill.

We said earlier that reviewing the national monuments was an unnecessary process that never should have been started, and we still hold to that. Once protected land goes unprotected and is allowed to be developed, there is no going back — it is lost forever.

Last April, President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. Department of Interior to review 27 national monuments established during the past 20 years, and the Hanford Reach was on that list.

For justification, Trump called his predecessors’ decisions to protect these areas of natural beauty a “massive federal land grab” and pledged to “give that power back to the states and to the people where it belongs.”

Well, millions of people from Washington state and around the country commented online and by mail to the Department of Interior during the review process, and it is likely the onslaught of voices in favor of leaving the national monuments as they are helped spare the Hanford Reach.

But Bears Ears from the outset appeared most at risk. It was widely recognized as the primary target for the review because it was the latest created and was still considered controversial.

Bears Ears is more than one million acres with cliff dwellings and rock art and includes land that is sacred to Native Americans.

It was designated by former President Barack Obama in December of 2016, just days before he left office. This roused the ire of some Utah politicians who started calling it a “midnight monument.”

There are elected officials in Utah who apparently would prefer some of the land be opened to oil and gas drillers, and potash mining companies. Supporting those interests — and those Utah politicians — are likely what triggered Trump to review the national monuments in the first place.

While it takes an act of Congress to create a national park, the Antiquities Act of 1906 allows presidents to declare an area a national monument. Washington State Attorney Bob Ferguson was prepared to defend the Hanford Reach if its protection status was threatened.

Now, he said he would help other states.

“If the administration proceeds to unlawfully strip monuments of their protections, I intend to help our neighbors in defending their national monuments, and protect the right of Washingtonians to visit these important pieces of our national heritage.”

Last month, Washington state Sen. Maria Cantwell, a ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said, “An attack on one of our national monuments is an attack on all of them.”

She said recently that, “These special places belong to the people, not corporate polluters” and that the “report and entire process have amounted to nothing but a colossal waste of tax payer dollars.”

Trump will set an alarming precedent if he attempts to change national monument designations set by former presidents.

If he continues down this path, all those who weighed in to protect the Hanford Reach should help Oregon and Utah with the same passionate resolve.