Earlier this month, President Trump unleashed an assault on two national monuments in Utah. He signed a proclamation slashing the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, from 1.35 million to 201,397 acres, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half, from nearly 1.9 million to 997,490 acres. Apparently, he isn’t done. He will be signing more proclamations stripping protection from some of our most outstanding public lands.
These actions taken against our national monuments will go down in American history as perhaps the single biggest attack on our public lands ever conducted by the federal government. As President Trump admits, they serve to aid those who have actively been trying to sell off our public lands, most notably Utah Congressman Rob Bishop.
Containing one of the greatest concentrations of archaeological sites in the world, Bears Ears was designated a national monument in response to a national groundswell led by five sovereign Indian nations in the Four Corners region, people who consider this area sacred. Those tribes, along with a host of conservation groups, have already brought a legal challenge to this proclamation, as they should. One-hundred-and-twenty-one law professors agree that this proclamation won’t stand up in court, primarily because the Antiquities Act, which was used to create these monuments, contains no language allowing presidents to shrink or eliminate national monuments.
But the President’s proclamation stripping protection from millions of acres of some of the most beautiful and cultural significant places in our country could be enacted with the help of Congressman Greg Gianforte.
Earlier this year, Rep. Gianforte voted for a bill written by Rep. Bishop. The dishonestly named “National Monument Creation and Protection Act” (H.R. 3990) would enable presidents to shrink and eliminate national monuments that previous presidents have created. If this bill passes, it would basically codify President Trump’s anti-national monument proclamations and open all national monuments created by the Antiquities Act — including Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks and Pompeys Pillar — to the same fate as Bears Ear and Grand-Staircase. It would render national monument protection virtually meaningless, prone to the whims of future presidents.
In voting for this bill, Rep. Gianforte blatantly ignored 2.7 million Americans, including 24,000 Montanans, who submitted comments to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging him to maintain all existing national monuments. Secretary Zinke recommended shrinking several national monuments, but kept his hands off Upper Missouri River Breaks after facing a backlash in his home state. Rep. Gianforte, however, put the Upper Missouri River Breaks right back on the chopping block when he voted for Rep. Bishop’s bill in the House Natural Resources Committee. If it passes Congress, Rep. Gianforte will be guilty of dismantling the central pillar of Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy and destroying the most effective tool we have for safeguarding public lands with significant natural, cultural, historical, and scientific value.
Over the past 110 years, 16 presidents — eight Democrats and eight Republicans — have used the Antiquities Act to designate 157 national monuments. I grew up in Crow Agency just outside one of Montana’s national monuments, the Little Bighorn Battlefield. This is a sacred site for numerous Plains Indian tribes, including my own. Its status as a national monument has enabled the descendants of those who fought in this battle to gather, tell stories, and begin healing from a traumatic history that includes this battle. That status would be put in jeopardy with Bishop’s bill.
The Antiquities Act is one of the best tools we have for preserving, protecting, and perpetuating the heritage we share as Montanans and Americans. Call Rep. Gianforte’s office at 202-225-3211 and tell him to respect that heritage by withdrawing his support of H.R. 3990.
Doyle, of Bozeman, is an educator and Crow tribal member.