Steve Lunetta | They Are Destroying Our National Monuments!

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That seems to be the charge that many on the left are throwing at the right these days. There is a bill, H.R. 3990 written by Rep. Rob Bishop from Utah’s 1st Congressional District, that seeks to greatly reduce some of the size and scope of recent national monument designations.

Some would say Bishop is trying to gut the 1906 Antiquities Act that gave Teddy Roosevelt the power to designate national monuments in the first place.

Sandra Cattell of our local Sierra Club gave me some excellent information that helped educate me on the topic. (Thanks, Sandra!)

As a point of clarification, a national monument is not a national park. A monument is intended to protect a specific feature. Parks are intended to protect a much wider area.

Let’s get some personal context. I love the outdoors. My favorite place in the world is Yosemite. When my wife wants to give me a treat, we hop in the Toyota and spend a weekend camping on the floor of the Yosemite Valley. I get infuriated when someone leaves trash on the trails or public spaces — it ruins the place for my children and grandchildren.

God touched Yosemite as a display of His glory. At least, that is how I see it. To defile it is evil.

Also, I serve on a local board that protects our canyon from development and seeks to preserve a rustic and natural way of life. You can say that I am a tree-hugger. To a point.

In 1906, the Antiquities Act was created to stop people from ripping off artifacts from national heritage sites like ruins and burial sites. The definition was slightly expanded to include any site with natural, scientific, or cultural features. This was done because the national park designation process was a very long and tedious process.

The Antiquities Act enabled the president to designate national monuments, giving protected status to an area, and making it easier to become a national park later.

Very cool. This is why we have many national parks and monuments today and we are all very glad about it.

Per the Sierra Club, 16 presidents have used the Act (eight Republicans and eight Democrats). So, this has really been a non-partisan thing over the years. Unfortunately, that is not the case today.

Teddy Roosevelt created 18 national monuments during his presidency. He was the second biggest user of the act. That is, until Barack Obama created 26 monuments with many of the declared monuments locked in controversy with the residents of the neighboring areas.

Twenty-six. Wow. That is quite a few. Obama created eight more monuments than Roosevelt even though Teddy was the creator of the act and a known outdoorsman and naturalist. Can’t say that about Obama.

The monument at the center of this debate is Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Obama carved out about 1.3 million acres of land with astounding rock formations, arches, vistas and native American cultural importance.

To put it in perspective, 1.3 million acres is 2,031 square miles or about 2.4 percent of the total land of Utah. That is quite a chunk. This is in addition to lands already designated as parks/monuments. Needless to say, the folks in Utah are really, really angry. They call it an unprecedented federal land grab.

Proponents of the monument rightly point out that state control of lands usually means a sell-off for agricultural, mining, or drilling purposes. Something like 70 percent of all state lands are either sold or leased in this way. It’s all about money and business.

Enter President Trump, who directed a study of recent federal monument designations and determined that they have far overstepped the boundaries of usual and customary. Hence, HR 3990 is an attempt to scale back these excesses into something more reasonable.

Except, they may have gone too far.

HR 3990 alters the scope of the Antiquities Act by limiting monument status to only “fossils, skeletons, artifacts and buildings” (per Sierra Club). Natural objects noted for geography, science, or wildlife are excluded. For example, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming may not be a monument under this definition.

It seems like we need a little bit of give-and-take on this one. Taking 1.3 million acres from Utah seems excessive and the Obama monument orgy needs to be looked at. However, places like Bears Ears need to be protected for future generations so that they can enjoy them.

Maybe we protect those parts of Bears Ears that are the most crucial for the future. I can’t believe that all 1.3 million acres are needed for cultural heritage or other purposes. Let’s find a midpoint where we can all find some measure of comfort that both sides have been heard.

There is too much extremism on this issue. Environmentalism is not a blue/red issue although some would like it to be. We need to get back to an old way of thinking.

In a word, compromise.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Placerita Canyon and walks softly but carries a big stick. OK, it’s an aluminum baseball bat but close enough. He can be reached at [email protected].

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