Advisory panel latest flashpoint in monument debate

FILE - This May 8, 2017, file photo, shows Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. The Bears Ears National Monument covers 315 square miles of southeastern Utah lands considered sacred to Native Americans that are home to ancient cliff dwellings and other artifacts. President Barack Obama created the monument in 2016, and President Donald Trump downsized it a year later.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson spearheads an 11-state coalition joining the fight to overturn President Donald Trump’s downsizing of two national monuments in Utah, a court battle that the American Farm Bureau Federation says will affect the value of federal rangelands and private ranches in the West.

Ferguson’s office submitted two identical briefs Monday to the federal district court in Washington, D.C., siding with tribes and environmental groups suing Trump over the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

The briefs argue that the Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents power to create national monuments, but not to shrink them. “Simply put, the Act is a one-way ratchet in favor of preservation,” the brief states.

The Trump administration last year roughly halved the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante monument created by President Bill Clinton in 1996. It also reduced by about 85 percent the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears monument designated by President Barack Obama in 2016.

The Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Hopi Tribe and others are seeking to overturn the actions. Two cases are moving forward, one for each monument. The American Farm Bureau Federation is seeking a judge’s permission to intervene in both to support Trump’s action.

Ferguson has now filed 11 amicus briefs favoring lawsuits against the Trump administration. His office also reports suing the administration 32 times. Ellen Rosenblum of Oregon and Xavier Becerra of California were among the other attorneys general who signed the brief on the national monuments.

Ferguson argues that the states have an interest in what happens in Utah because they depend on the permanence of national monument boundaries in making their own outdoor recreation and wildlife management spending plans.

“My office is committed to defending these national treasures in Washington state and throughout the country,” Ferguson said in a written statement.

Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee presiding over both cases, has yet to rule on motions by the Trump administration to dismiss the suits. She denied motions by the Justice Department to have the cases moved to federal court in Utah.

The Justice Department argues the law and history are on Trump’s side. The Antiquities Act does not give presidents unlimited power to put land in national monuments. The monuments must be confined to the smallest area compatible with protecting cultural resources, according to the Justice Department.

Presidents reduced national monuments 12 times between 1909 and 1960, according to the Congressional Research Service. In 1915, Woodrow Wilson removed 313,280 acres from Mount Olympus National Monument, the forerunner of Olympic National Park. The reduction remains the largest ever for a national monument and cut Olympus by nearly half.

Chutkan has yet to rule on the Farm Bureau’s motion to intervene. In a court filing, the Farm Bureau said national monuments lead to limits on livestock grazing. One Utah ranching family with a grazing allotment in the Grand Staircase-Escalate monument now spends $25,000 to $50,000 more a year on feed, according to the Farm Bureau.

Since ranching in the West is so dependent on federal land, the monuments have the effect of reducing the value of private ranches, according to the Farm Bureau. “Grazing allotments in the Monuments are not just land, they are the linchpin of the western ranching community,” according to a Farm Bureau court filing.

Besides Oregon and California, the other states that joined the Washington-led brief are Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts.

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