Battle brewing over national monuments in Nevada, elsewhere

Gold Butte National Monument on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Gold Butte, Nevada. (Christian K. Lee/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @chrisklee_jpeg

By Gary Martin Review-Journal Washington Bureau. June 2, 2017

WASHINGTON — A battle is brewing between activists across the political spectrum over a Trump administration review of recently established national monuments, including Gold Butte in Nevada, and a 1906 law that permits presidential protection of public lands.

In the most recent salvo, 71 environmental and natural resource lawyers sent a letter to the administration saying a White House executive order that authorized the review incorrectly implied that President Donald Trump has the authority to rescind or modify national monuments created by previous presidents.

It does not, the lawyers insisted: “Congress retained that power for itself.”

But conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and The Sutherland Institute argue Trump has the authority to manage public lands and reduce the size of national monuments, a practice that has occurred several times.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is currently reviewing national monument declarations over the past 21 years to determine if presidents abused authority under the 110-year-old Antiquities Act to restrict commercial use of public lands with national monument declarations.

He has reviewed two monuments in Utah, including the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears, and has pledged to come to Nevada, where Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments were established by President Barack Obama.

A Zinke spokeswoman said the secretary’s schedule for June is still being decided.

But during Zinke’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., wrangled a pledge that he would visit Nevada before any recommendation on monuments was given to the president.

Support for the review

Conservatives applaud the review as a long overdue first step by Trump to roll back declarations by Presidents Obama and Bill Clinton that locked up lands and denied Western states and local communities economic opportunity from timber, grazing and energy.

“With nearly 85 percent of Nevada already owned by the federal government, unilateral land grabs by the executive branch should not be tolerated — regardless of who is in the White House,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who has introduced legislation to curtail declarations in the future.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has urged Congress to repeal the Antiquities Act, claiming recent declarations have thwarted economic opportunity and removes states and private citizens from decisions made on land use. It also claims the intent of the Antiquities Act was to protect cultural artifacts that were being taken from lands at the turn of the century.

While conservatives argue that a president has broad power to manage public lands, the environmental lawyers said the authority of the president is narrow under the act.

“The plain text of the Antiquities Act makes this clear. The Act vests the president with the power to create national monuments but does not authorize subsequent modification,” their letter states.

Bret Birdsong, a University of Las Vegas professor of law, was appointed by Obama and served as deputy solicitor for land management resources in the Department of Interior. He worked on national monument declarations, although not Gold Butte.

Birdsong, one of the lawyers who signed the letter, said an opinion from the U.S. attorney general in 1938, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision have addressed the issue of presidential authority and the Antiquities Act.

The Supreme Court ruling in 1920 addressed the argument made by conservatives over land use today.

President Theodore Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to make the Grand Canyon a national monument. It later became a national park. A man who had filed a mining claim in the Grand Canyon challenged the authority of Roosevelt. The Supreme Court shot that down.

“The Supreme Court looked at that 100 years ago and said it was bunk,” Birdsong said.

Uproar in Utah

Recent declarations in Utah have been fiercely attacked by state officials who argue that the designations in that state are crippling local economies by eliminating good-paying industry jobs and taking tax revenue away from communities that need it for schools.

The uproar has been loud in Utah.

“It’s not the flashpoint in Nevada as it has been in Utah,” Birdsong noted.

The Bureau of Land Management area that has been designated as Gold Butte National Monument was the site of the infamous standoff in 2014 between federal agents and the Cliven Bundy family.

But a public opinion poll conducted in 2017 for the Center for Western Priorities found 71 percent of Nevada voters supported the Gold Butte designation.

Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., toured Gold Butte this week. She said “thousands of visitors from across the country come to visit our state to enjoy our public lands.”

“This land should be available to be enjoyed by all,” Rosen said. “That’s why I strongly oppose efforts by the current administration and outside groups to revoke Gold Butte’s status as national monument.”

Rosen’s tour is preparation for defending Gold Butte from the pending administration review and possible proposals to change the designation.

Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Contact @garymartindc on Twitter.

Nearby monuments

President Barack Obama designated Basin and Range National Monument on federal land 120 miles north of Las Vegas in July 2015. He followed that up in December 2016, a few weeks before leaving office, with declarations that established Gold Butte National Monument on 297,000 acres of federal land 100 miles northeast of Las Vegas and Bears Ears on 1.3 million acres in Utah.

Posted in BLM, Bundy Ranch, Gold Butte, Land, LV Review Journal.

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2 Comments

  1. The problem is that the federal government had no constitutional authority to set aside lands in the first pace–so to give Trump or anyone in the federal government support for modifying or rescinding etc. implies we agree with the feds having the power that they assume when we do not! Unless the states agreed to give the federal authorities the power to create these national monuments or parks none of them were taken constitutionally in the first place. The land belongs to the states individually and the people within them to decide what to do with them. It would be far more heartening if the Trump administration took that approach rather than assuming his administration has the power to do anything–good or bad–with state lands! Let’s get this settled once and for all–and, set our torch where it constitutionally belongs rather than settling for the crumbs any administration implies it may leave us!

  2. 1cpsdestroyer, I am 100% on your side about this, except that our federal overseers gave us the shaft… When the land in the 11 western states most affected by federal overreach was granted status as states, the doctrine of equal footing was not used as the Constitution directs. This doctrine, as described in Wikipedia, directs the federal government to cede all the land within the boundaries of the new state to the state without charge or encumbrance.To quote Wikipedia:

    "The equal footing doctrine, also known equality of the states, is the principle in United States constitutional law that all states admitted to the Union under the Constitution since 1789 enter on equal footing with the 13 states already in the Union at that time. The Constitution grants to Congress the power to admit new states in Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1, which states:

    "New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress."

    Therefore, through subterfuge back in the in the previous 2 centuries, the federal government has unconstitutionally and thus illegally stolen ownership of over 50% of the land west of the Mississippi River, and they are continuing to do so right up to the present day. The Sagebrush Rebellion near the end of the 20th century addressed this problem, but the feds were so powerful that the movement died. In fact, 15 years ago 53 ranches existed in Clark County alone. 52 of them were put out of business due to regulationary actions by the BLM, USFS, EPA, and other illegal federal bureaucracies.

    There is now a fast growing populace which recognizes the tyranny this is causing and the resulting dictatorship being caused by leaders in the federal government. If you have a solution which will halt the impending death of our country I’d certainly like to hear it. Make it quick, however, because patriots all over the country are concerned that we may be looking at a 2nd Revolution. I pray it doesn’t come to that.

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