President Trump’s executive order last month to review all national monuments established over the past 21 years is an exercise in government inefficiency.
Over the next six months, the Interior Department is going to review every national monument designated in the last 21 years. This review will find that each one of them is worthy of protection – for the incredible scenic, wildlife and cultural values that they were originally set aside for. In almost every case, these monuments were the result of lengthy discussions by local officials, conservationists, area ranchers and tribal interests as they worked to hammer out agreements to preserve multiple-use public lands and waters in special places around the nation.
That was certainly the case with the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, an expanse of incredible country in the rugged breaks that rise off of the Missouri River in central Montana. The monument was established in 2001, when President Clinton used the Antiquities Act to protect this remarkable landscape.
It’s a law passed in 1906 and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, and since then eight Democrats and eight Republicans have used it to protect some of our most treasured cultural and scenic areas. The list includes the Grand Canyon and Zion national parks, as well as cultural sites like the Statute of Liberty and Pompey’s Pillar.
The Breaks monument didn’t happen until there were public meetings, discussions with local interests and a visit from then Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. And while not everyone supported the monument designation – never is there full agreement – the end product drew broad support from Montanans.
What we’ve seen since then is that the monument works. Hunters have still had access to pursue big game and birds on the monument. Ranchers with grazing leases have maintained those. And floaters who enjoy the river that Lewis and Clark came up two centuries ago still float this waterway. The monument designation kept this important area in the heart of Montana from being altered, developed, or taken away from the public for years.
That is all at risk now. The President’s executive order was shrouded in language about local control and state management, but that’s just a political talking point by anti-monument politicians who have already made up their minds. The Breaks, and all national monuments, are multiple-use public lands, and local voices have always had tremendous say through Resource Advisory Councils and other means.
The Upper Missouri River Breaks shows exactly how a national monument is supposed to work: it keeps our public land as it is: open to hunting and fishing, livestock grazing, and other traditional uses, rather than locking our lands up for large-scale oil and gas, mining, or other development activities that close off public use. That is good for hunters and anglers, good for ranchers, good for our Montana way of life.
Nick Gevock is the conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation.