Endangered species should face same Trump test as national monuments
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This week, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is touring two national monuments as part of President Trump’s April 26 executive order to review the last 20 years of national monument designations. The order gave Zinke 45 days to review monuments and determine whether any should be “rescinded, resized or modified in order to better benefit our public lands.” The tour includes Bears Ears — 1.35 million acres established by President Obama in 2016 — and Grand Staircase-Escalante — 1.9 million acres established by President Clinton in 1996. These are only two of 27 that Zinke has singled out for review.

Zinke sees the review as an opportunity to “give state and local communities a meaningful voice in the process.” Doing so could be the environmental legacy of the Trump administration.

Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, presidents can establish monuments without any input or approval from Congress or state and local officials. Hence, Bears Ears is seen as a "massive land grab." That land grab is even bigger considering that Obama created 26 new monuments and expanded 8 more, for a total of 553 million acres, bigger than Alaska, more than any previous president.


The effect of this executive power abuse on state and local governments is illustrated by Clinton’s creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. In it, he included 176,000 acres of state lands used to generate revenues for Utah’s K-12 public education system. The House Committee on Natural Resources recently cited Utah Geological Survey data that found restrictions for commodity production such as grazing and mineral development caused the value of the state lands to drop by $8 billion immediately after the designation. Bears Ears locked up another 109,000 acres of state land.


“Families that have lived for generations in affected communities find their families torn apart due to lack of employment opportunities for the next generation,” Kathleen Clarke, former head of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management under President Bush, said of the monument. “Populations are declining. In the twenty years since the creation of the Grand Staircase, school enrollment in Escalante has gone from 150 to 57 students.”

Obama’s designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine caused similar concerns. At a recent hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) identified economic losses to the forestry industry and public access barriers such as the loss of connectivity for ATV trails. “Not long after the President designated the Monument, Maine residents started to feel the negative effects of having the federal government as their new master,” he testified

The monument review order follows President Trump’s Feb. 28 revocation of Obama’s “Waters of the United States” rule. That rule gave the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate virtually every drop of water from the Mississippi River to a backyard puddle. He has instructed the EPA to unwind Obama’s war on coal and signed a congressional resolution overturning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) seizure of Alaska’s authority to manage wildlife on federal refuges.

The president should continue this trajectory by instructing Secretary Zinke to review the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s overreach. For example, in 2014, the FWS added four sub-species of the Mazama pocket gopher in Thurston County, Washington, to its list of threatened animals.

To develop property suitable for gophers, owners must go through a long, costly permitting process. Requiring a permit is not based on the number of gophers, but on the property’s suitability as gopher habitat. Landowners with suitable habitat may be required to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan approved by FWS, a plan that could cost $42,000 in habitat offset fees. In one case, a local developer spent over $3 million to accommodate the furry digger on 77 acres of its land.

Just as Secretary Zinke is seeking local input on national monument designations, he should require FWS to do so with endangered species regulations. When it worked with a nearby military base, they were able to develop a plan whereby gophers thrive along with military training exercises. The same could be done with private landowners.

President Trump’s executive orders have signaled that he thinks state and local policymakers can be better caretakers of the environment than Washington bureaucrats. The Trump environmental agenda seems to be following the advice of David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth — “Think globally, act locally.” State and local citizens are better positioned to solve most environmental problems than are bureaucrats in Washington.  


Terry L. Anderson is a senior fellow at the Stanford University Hoover Institution and former president of the Property and Environment Research Center in Montana.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.