Trump Moves to Dismantle Monuments Including World’s largest MPA

Marine Protected Areas Also at Risk.

WASHINGTON—President Trump announced a plan to consider scaling back protection of 27 national monuments around the country with serious potential impacts on marine, land and cultural resources. By signing The Executive Order on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act, Trump authorizes Secretary Ryan Zinke at the Department of the Interior to review all national monument designations on federal public land since 1996 that are 100,000 acres or more in size. This Act could potentially impact over 1 billion acres of natural and cultural treasures on public lands and oceans that have been protected by presidents of both political parties.

Fish and reef
Racoon Butterfly Fish on Healthy Reef. Credit David McGuire, Shark Stewards

This Review places 27 national monuments at risk including the Bears Ears national monuments in Utah to marine protection under Marine National Monuments in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The initiative is widely expected to trigger dramatic changes in protections or boundaries for monuments to accommodate special interests like coal, oil, gas and logging industries. National monument designations have protected many of the most iconic places in the country. Many of our nation’s most national parks were first protected as monuments, including Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Zion, Sequoia and Olympic national parks. Currently there are 129 National Monuments in the system.

By expanding the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off Hawaii in August 2016, President Obama created the largest ecologically protected area on the planet by increasing the area under the first Marine National Monument under President George W. Bush in 2006. Using the Antiquities Act, Bush created the first Monument protecting 140,000 square miles in the Northwest Hawaiian Island Chain. Obama 582,578 square miles off northwestern Hawaii, with coral reefs that are home to more than 7,000 marine species. The first Marine Monument in the Atlantic, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of Cape Cod created under Obama are also at risk. Marine national monuments generally include bans on oil and gas exploration and drilling and most commercial fishing operations.

Brown Booby, French Frigate Shoals
Nesting Booby on Protected Atoll. Credit David McGuire, Shark Stewards

First used by President Theodore Roosevelt, monuments are created using executive powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act. This Act is intended to protect culturally or environmentally significant lands and waters from development and exploitation and has been used 157 times under 16 presidents. Some areas designated as National Monuments have later been converted into National Parks, or incorporated into existing National Parks. Sixteen presidents from both parties have used the Act to protect land and marine resources, including 5 by GW Bush who protected the Marianas, Pacific Remote Island and Papahanumokukea Marine National Monuments. President Obama made the widest use of the Act, establishing protection 39 times during his tenure, followed in number by President Clinton at 13. President Carter protected the largest area in the Alaskan Wilderness, an area under fire by opponents of federal protective authority.

Under the Antiquities Act, only Congress has the clear authority to reduce or nullify a monument designation, not the president. So far, no president has attempted to withdraw Monument Status. Previous court challenges of the Antiquities Act have granted broad discretion by a President to act in support of conservation. The Supreme Court has also ruled that it is the job of Congress- not the president- to limit discretion, since Congress defines the scope of presidential authority under the Act. However a few presidents have reduced Monuments in size, including Woodrow Wilson, who downsized what was then called Mt. Olympus National Monument in size, which is now part of Olympic National Park in Washington state. By reducing the size of a Monument, especially the large marine protected areas, conservation and protection will be reduced, particularly for large ranging or migratory animals like tuna, sharks and billfish. Opening these Monument Areas to extraction and development will have a have long lasting impact on our wilderness and wildlife.

The order instructs Zinke to submit a preliminary review within 45 days and a final one within 120 days. Watchdog environmental groups are paying close scrutiny the review and are threatening legal challenge to any removal in area of protective status.

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Meet the Author
A marine biologist and adventurer, David McGuire writes, photographs and explores the natural world, documenting wildlife and works to protect threatened sharks and critical marine ecosystems though the non profit Shark Stewards.