Secretary Zinke's Review of National Monuments

Interior Secretary Zinke Recommends Changes to "Handful" of National Monuments


A hiker explores a canyon in  Bears Ears National Monumentprotected by President Obama using his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Secretary Zinke's review, not yet publicly released, is believed to recommend reducing the size of Bears Ears and modifying its management structure.


As requested, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has submitted a review of 27 National Monuments designated by Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton. The review is not yet public, but reportedly will recommend changes, including reductions in size, to a "handful" of them. 

Such changes are rare, but not unprecedented. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson diminished the size of Mt. Olympus (now Olympic National Park) by 313,000 acres - nearly 50% of the Monument. (Wilson is also the president who signed the Raker Act, allowing Yosemite National Park's Hetch Hetchy Valley to be dammed.)

National Monuments are created by the president - a power granted by the Antiquities Act (1906). The Act was initially passed to prevent artifact seekers from pillaging native American sites, including Mesa Verde. The Act is an easy read - only one page. President Theodore Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to protect the Grand Canyon, Muir Woods and numerous other lands. Wikipedia provides a simple summary of lands protected under the Act. 


Vandalism at Mesa Verde in the early 20th century provided impetus for Congress to pass the Antiquities Act. 

National Parks, on the other hand, can only be created by Congress. Many of our National Parks were initially protected as National Monuments, and not afforded the greater level of protection that "park" status provides until our bicameral Congress and President could come to agreement - a high burden that our Founding Fathers created when they drafted the Constitution. Some of our best known National Parks were initially protected as National Monuments, including Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Olympic, Petrified Forest, Arches, Grand Teton and Denali.

In most cases, once a natural landscape is developed, it will never again be the same. Accordingly, any loss of protection proposed by Zinke's review faces stiff opposition - see, for example, the rebuke from the Los Angeles Times.

Our campaign to restore Hetch Hetchy is different in the sense that we understand the landscape will return to its former glory after the reservoir is emptied. It will take some time for trees to grow to maturity, but most of the valley will come back rather quickly - see reports by the National Park Service and the University of Wisconsin.

Hetch Hetchy, in our view, is well worth the effort that restoration will require. It's always better, however, not to destroy our most special landscapes in the first place.

P.S. Save the date - March 17, 2018 - for our annual dinner at the Berkeley City Club.