President Donald Trump signed an executive order today directing his Interior secretary to review the designation of dozens of national monuments on federal lands. Trump called the protection efforts "a massive federal land grab" by previous administrations.
A review could upend protections put in place in Montana and other states under a 1906 law called the Antiquities Act that authorizes the president to declare federal lands as monuments and restrict their use.
Susan Barrows is on the board of directors for Friends of Pompey Pillar, one of three national monuments in the state. While Pompey Pillar is too small to be reviewed under the order, which will only look at monuments that are over 100,000 acres, she says it’s a slippery slope.
“If properties can be taken back, lose their monument status, because of a change in the government from regime to regime, it threatens all of us," she says.
Only one of Montana’s national monuments, Upper Missouri River Breaks, would be subject to this review.
The Antiquities Act does not give the president explicit power to undo a designation and no president has ever taken such a step. Still, the order worries Susan Barrows.
“Who knows, someone might have a really great idea to build a factory down by the pillar. And they decide they can get some political influence and take it out of public hands. That would be a tragedy,” she says.
The order was spurred by Utah Republicans angry over former President Barack Obama’s last-minute designation of Bears Ears National Monument, which sits on more than 1 million acres of land sacred to Native Americans. The Republicans said the designation will stymie growth by closing the area to new commercial and energy development.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he’ll “work with local, state and Tribal governments to review monument designations made the past 20 years and make sure they work for the local communities.”
Zinke was directed to produce an interim report in 45 days, and then issue a final report within 120 days.