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WildEarth Guardians Denounces Misleading Congressional Western Caucus Letter On Zinke Monument Review

Letter starts with invalid premise, proceeds with unsubstantiated and misleading claims.

Santa Fe, NM—On June 30, the Congressional Western Caucus (CWC), a group made up of conservative members of the House of Representatives from western states, published a letter recommending drastic changes for nearly all the 21 western national monuments being reviewed by Interior Secretary Zinke under Executive Order 13792.  The CWC concluded that 18 of the monuments should either be rescinded entirely or have their boundaries shrunk—yet the group’s assertions are based on an invalid premise and misleading information.

The Western Caucus’s argument for a sweeping rescission or reduction of national monuments is based on an interpretation of the Antiquities Act that the Supreme Court explicitly rejected almost a century ago.  The CWC maintains the 1906 law only authorizes the protection of individual artifacts or ruins, rather than landscapes. In 1920, however, the Supreme Court upheld Teddy Roosevelt’s designation of more than 800,000 acres of public lands as Grand Canyon National Monument, ruling that the Antiquities Act authorizes a president to protect entire landscapes that are “objects of scientific interest.”[1]

The CWC then cherry-picks information to support its faulty premise.  The group asserts that the average size of a national monument was 422 acres under “early application” of the Antiquities Act, but in truth the law was used to protect large, important landscapes from the outset: By 1909, Roosevelt had protected both the Grand Canyon and the Olympic Mountains of Washington state (610,000+ acres) by monument designation.

The CWC continues to rely on deceptive statements throughout its letter:

What the CWC says: Monument designations prohibit Utah from developing the state trust lands that are located within monument boundaries.

The truth: Utah maintains the same rights to trust lands after monument designation as before.

What the CWC says: The designation of Bears Ears National Monument will “have sweeping repercussions for the education system and schoolchildren” of Utah.

The truth:

  • Utah’s deputy director of state trust lands believes Bears Ears’ monument designation to be, at worst, revenue-neutral.[2]
  • Annual school funding through trust lands makes up less than two percent of Utah’s total education budget.[3]
  • The trust lands inside Bears Ears’ boundary are only about three percent of the total trust lands Utah manages.[4] 

What the CWC says: An opinion poll shows a majority of Utahns opposed designating Bears Ears as a national monument.

The truth: The poll is outdated.  It was conducted prior to Bears Ears’ monument designation; and its results differ greatly from those of similar polls. The most recent poll shows that the majority of Utahns support keeping Bears Ears National Monument as-is.[5] 

What the CWC says: The designation of Carrizo Plain National Monument has negatively impacted development of the mineral resources underneath the monument.

The truth: Much of the oil and gas below the monument is privately owned. The owners have rights to reasonable use of the surface lands to develop the oil and gas underneath.  National monument designation has not altered those rights.  Oil and gas resources outside the monument boundary also are not affected by the designation.[6] 

What the CWC says: The designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument resulted in a “huge socioeconomic loss to the state of Utah.”

The truth: The exact opposite occurred.  At Utah’s request and to its benefit, state trust lands inside the monument were exchanged for federal lands elsewhere in the state.  According to former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, the exchange has provided $300 million in revenue for Utah’s schools.[7]  Meanwhile, the local economy has seen 17% growth in real per capita income since the designation.[8] 

What the CWC says: The designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante curtailed grazing privileges within the monument.

The truth: The monument’s proclamation states that “existing grazing uses shall continue to be governed by applicable laws and regulations other than this proclamation.”[9]

 “This letter shows that the Congressional Western Caucus is truly a reactionary group that cares not a whit about what Americans want from their public lands,” said Chris Krupp, Public Lands Guardian for WildEarth Guardians. “If it were up to the Western Caucus, nearly all the monument designations in the past twenty years would be overturned in order to appease the unfounded hysteria of public lands ranchers and the oil and gas industry. What makes it truly galling is that members of Congress are so willing to blatantly deceive the public with distortions and untruths.”


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