WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined 11 Democratic senators in pressing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to postpone the development of management plans for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah until legal challenges regarding the president’s authority to reduce the size of the monuments have been resolved. The senators also asked that the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument management plan remain in effect for all lands within the original monument boundary until resolution of the legal challenges.
On Dec. 4, 2017, President Trump announced plans to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and cut Grand Staircase-Escalante to about half of its current size. In response, five American Indian tribes filed suit in federal court. They argue that although Congress delegated power to the president under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate national monuments, it did not give the power to reduce them.
“By moving forward with management plans prior to the resolution of the pending lawsuits, BLM could be leaving large swaths of land -- full of important historic, cultural, ecological, and scientific resources -- without proper protection,” the senators wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “Until it is clear that the president had the proper authority to shrink both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, we urge you not to move forward with developing any management plans for these monuments.”
The letter was led by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Besides Udall and Heinrich, it was signed by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
On Jan. 30, 2018, Udall led the introduction of the America’s Natural Treasures of Immeasurable Quality Unite, Inspire, and Together Improve the Economies of States (ANTIQUITIES) Act of 2018, which was cosponsored by Heinrich and 17 other Democratic senators. The legislation enhances several national monuments, including Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, and it reinforces Congress’ intent in the Antiquities Act of 1906: only Congress has the authority to modify a national monument designation.
Full text of the letter is available here and below:
February 16, 2018
Dear Secretary Zinke:
We urge the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to postpone the development of management plans for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument areas in Utah until legal challenges regarding the President’s authority to reduce the size of the monuments have been resolved. We also request that the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument management plan remain in effect for all lands within the original monument boundary until resolution of the legal challenges.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 granted the President the authority to create new national monuments—it did not authorize subsequent Presidential modifications. United States Attorney General Homer Cumming confirmed this in his 1938 opinion stating that the Antiquities Act “does not authorize [the President] to abolish [national monuments] after they have been established.” In 1976, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which restated Congress’ sole authority to modify monuments based on the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution, was enacted. While there have been sixteen instances of a president reducing the size of an existing national monument, all of the previous reductions occurred prior to the enactment of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Since then no president has acted to reduce the size of a monument designated by a previous president. This limit to the President’s authority was again recognized in 2004 when the Solicitor General stated in a brief that “Congress intended that national monuments would be permanent; they can be abolished only by Act of Congress.”
Native American, conservation, and paleontology groups have filed lawsuits challenging President Trump’s legal authority to significantly reduce the size of both monuments. The outcome of these legal challenges may have significant impacts on the monuments’ size and management. By moving forward with management plans prior to the resolution of the pending lawsuits, BLM could be leaving large swaths of land—full of important historic, cultural, ecological, and scientific resources—without proper protection.
Until it is clear that the President had the proper authority to shrink both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, we urge you not to move forward with developing any management plans for these monuments.