Proposed Changes in Land Management

What is the difference between national parks and national monuments? Why does it matter?

The primary delineation is the purpose of preserving the land. A national park protects land for its natural, scenic, and recreational value; they’re the crown jewels of our country’s land. A national monument may preserve historical, scientific or cultural objects of interest, such as military forts or fossil sites. More importantly, however, is not the differentiation between what is preserved but who gets to manage it and what the land can be used for.

The National Parks Service oversees the management of all national parks and many national monuments. It is under the parent agency of the Department of the Interior. National monuments may also be overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Bureau of Land Management. Congress designates national parks while presidential proclamations establish national monuments, as according to the Antiquities Act passed in 1906. Unless otherwise noted, national parks and monuments are not used for consumptive purposes such as mining, hunting, grazing, and timber cutting. Congress does permit some mining, oil, and gas development in some national parks service areas.

A new congressional act, the Improved National Monument Designation Process Act, would require the President to “obtain congressional approval, certify compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), and receive notice from the governor of the state in which the monument is to be located that the state legislature has enacted legislation approving its designation”(Congress.gov). Originally introduced in February 2015, the act moves to weaken executive power and open lands and waters to oil and gas exploration. The reintroduction of this act to congress in 2017 is a direct response to President Obama’s recent flurry of national monument dedications. President Obama has preserved more acres than the past 18 presidents in national monuments, the majority of which are marine monuments off the west coast and Hawaii. These marine sanctuaries prohibit oil extraction.

The 25 co-sponsors of the bill, all of which are Republican, argue the creation of national monuments by Obama amounts to an unjustified federal land grab. Not only would states have to approve the creation of a national monument, including all states within one hundred nautical miles of the national monument, but the law would also disallow any mandated restrictions on a marine monument until after public review. After that public review, all restrictions, including oil exploration and extraction, would have to be reviewed by congress.

This bill amounts to congress wanting to prohibit the restriction of offshore drilling. The purpose of national monuments and parks is to preserve lands for perpetuity, not to go to the highest bidder. In 2015, Alaska, Wyoming, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Utah, and New Mexico put forward bills to take back control of federal lands. A major funder behind these laws: ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a conservative non-profit behind the controversial Florida “stand your ground” law and Arizona’s law requiring law enforcement to detain people if suspected of living in the country illegally. Members of ALEC include Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and other energy companies and associations.

While proponents of land transfer argue that westerners want to control their public lands, a poll by Colorado College demonstrates the opposite. More than two-thirds of those polled believe that American lands belong to the country as a whole, while less than a quarter believe that they belong more to the state they are in. Even a majority of those who identify with the Tea Party think American lands belong to the entire country, not the state they’re located in. The main reason: they feel their states lack the resources to properly maintain the land. In a bipartisan poll by the Center for American Progress, Utah was the only state where a majority supported the transfer of federal lands to the state, and it was only a bare majority at 52%.

The Improved National Monument Designation Process Act would not benefit the western states or the American public. Instead, it is a bid by energy companies and climate change deniers to sink their claws further into our public lands. What is the purpose of having federal land management and stewardship if it is not to protect that land from such enterprises?