Monuments to top-down thinking remain
By MIKE CRAPO
For the Capital Press
For many years, every president has had authority to ride roughshod over the public when creating national monuments. Under current law, a "top-down" executive order can be issued to create a national monument, with no opportunity for public input or congressional or state oversight.
This has resulted in increased distrust from those most connected to the area under designation, and it has lingering impacts in communities throughout the country. The truth is that the provision in current law which allows the administration to issue executive orders to create such monuments was never intended to be used in the fashion it has been, and it's about time that Congress did something to bring that authority back in line with its historical intent.
Many of us enjoy scenic areas and wouldn't argue about the historic nature and preservation value of many national monuments. But the history of creating monuments is littered with examples where the bureaucratic process occurred without proper review and comment, and resulted in the taking of private property. The executive orders issued to create monuments have drawn widespread local opposition and ultimately raise questions regarding freedom. This is why I joined with Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, to introduce legislation to rein in the process and provide appropriate opportunities for public input and congressional oversight.
The National Monument Designation Transparency and Accountability Act, S472, ensures Congress has equal input in approving monuments. If Congress doesn't ratify the executive order, the land reverts back to original status within two years. A companion measure has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The president's authority to create monuments was born in the 1906 Antiquities Act, intended to protect very small parcels of land for historical purposes. Since then, various presidents have used this authority to designate 71 monuments, covering approximately 136 million acres.
Those lands were placed under federal control with little or no advanced warning because warning is not required under present law. That would change under the legislation that has been introduced; it would also take us back to what the original law intended: that any monument designation be for only the smallest area essential to ensure the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.
This issue has come to the forefront because of a leaked internal memo from the U.S. Department of Interior, recommending several sites for potential monuments. It also raised the possibility of acquiring 140,000 acres of private lands in the Pioneer Mountains of Idaho between Craters of the Moon and Forest Service lands. The vague description in the memo is suspicious, as it wasn't very long ago the Clinton administration undertook a massive expansion of the Craters of the Moon Monument.
In 2000, President Clinton used an executive order to expand Craters 13-fold, from 53,000 acres to include an additional 661,000 -- a move that still causes considerable unease in local communities. This is not uncommon in areas affected by executive orders that struck suddenly and left the community changed without allowing it any input into those changes.
Executive orders have had adverse effects throughout the country when communities were not allowed to weigh in on changes being imposed by the federal government.
The "top-down" directives from Washington, D.C., regarding land management provoke discord and mistrust. I have always held that the collaborative model and engaging all sides early on are the best approaches to solving land management issues.
In Idaho, the Owyhee Initiative demonstrated what happens when people work together. It's important to protect and preserve national treasures, but these decisions should be transparent with equal input from both the public and Congress.
Mike Crapo is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Idaho.