Trump Monument Order Heads in Wrong Direction
Backlog of Interior Wilderness Reviews to See If More, Not Less, Protection Needed
Washington, DC — President Trump today ordered a review of national monuments across an area exceeding 1.5 billion acres – more than the combined land area of Alaska, Texas and California. The designated reviewer, the Interior Department, has no dedicated budget or staff for this immense task. At the same time, Interior is sitting upon long overdue reviews for wilderness protection in millions of acres of other public lands, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In his order, President Trump directed the Department of Interior to review 50 monument designations created since 1996 and suggest legislative changes or other modifications to their boundaries. The order is a tacit concession that President Trump lacks the legal authority to simply undo his predecessors’ monument proclamations. Moreover, any resulting legislative recommendations may be moot since Congress, which does have the power to revoke monument status, has been unable to agree on doing so.
“This exercise is a monumental waste of time,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Like many of the Trump Executive Orders, this latest one is a political stunt that does not directly accomplish anything and may ultimately result in not a whit of change.”
At the same time, the Interior Department has been neglecting the reviews required of it by the Wilderness Act which mandates a process for identifying and expanding wilderness areas. Interior has let these responsibilities fall by the wayside. Looking just at stalled reviews inside the national park system –
- Long-stalled wilderness recommendations should have increased park wilderness area by more than half, putting another 26 million acres – an area the size of Tennessee – under wilderness protection. Consequently, several “flagship” parks such as Yellowstone, Glacier, Big Bend and the Grand Canyon do not have any designated wilderness and are protected only by National Park Service (NPS) policies that can be waived or changed;
- NPS has a growing backlog of unfulfilled wilderness duties from not assessing all roadless lands for wilderness eligibility, not converting potential wilderness into full wilderness and even not preparing legal descriptions and boundary maps for several areas designated by Congress; and
- Although it manages over 45 million wilderness acres across more than 50 parks, the national park system-wide wilderness management staff has shrunk to almost vestigial levels.
“If Interior cannot keep up with the reviews required by the Wilderness Act which has specific criteria, how can it undertake a much larger task applying amorphous criteria?” asked Ruch, noting that the order presumes that too much area has been protected. “Given the growing strains and threats confronting our public lands, Interior should be exploring the need for greater protections not less.”