Udall introduces bill to prevent presidents from shrinking national monuments
Bill also proposes more than 249k acres of wilderness in NM
FARMINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. introduced a bill this week that would give Congress the only authority to reduce the size of a national monument.
The bill, known as America’s Natural Treasures of Immeasurable Quality Unite, Inspire, and Together Improve the Economies of States Act of 2018 — or the ANTIQUITIES Act or 2018 — is co-sponsored by more than a dozen Democratic senators, including Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
The measure comes in response to the reduction in the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah by President Trump. The reduction went into effect today and created two smaller national monuments totaling about 200,000 acres in place of the former 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument.
In addition to removing a president’s authority to reduce the size of a national monument, the ANTIQUITIES Act would expand the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument to encompass 1.9 million acres. The 1.9 million acres is larger than the area designated by President Barack Obama in 2016. It is based on a proposal a coalition of five tribes, including the Navajo Nation, submitted to Obama for the national monument.
Udall also is seeking the creation of more than 249,000 acres of new wilderness area in New Mexico.
Ned Adriance, a spokesman for Udall, said the wilderness would be located within the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peak national monuments. He said the bill proposing the wilderness areas in Rio Grande del Norte passed the Senate last year but has not passed the House of Representatives.
While the bill includes additional protection on some lands in New Mexico, its primary focus is the president's authority to reduce the size of national monuments.
Last year, President Donald Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all national monuments designated by presidents from 1996 until 2017 that were larger than 100,000 acres. Based on that review, Trump issued a proclamation in December that created two smaller national monuments to replace the Bears Ears National Monument.
Opponents of the Bears Ears National Monument say Obama’s designation of the national monument was an abuse of the Antiquities Act of 1906 because of the amount of land — more than 1.3 million — incorporated into its boundaries.
In a press release, Udall described Trump's review of national monuments and reduction in size of some of the monuments as an “unprecedented attack on public lands.”
Trump is not the only president that has reduced the size of a national monument. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson reduced the size of Mt. Olympus National Monument. The monument later became Olympic National Park.
“This legislation makes it crystal clear that monuments designated through the Antiquities Act of 1906 may not be altered by future presidents because only Congress has the authority to change a national monument designation,” Udall said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.