Is the San Juan Islands National Monument in danger of losing its protected status?
There has been some worry lately over an executive order issued by President Donald Trump this April requiring the review of many national monuments created after 1996. The order’s wording has been interpreted differently by various sources, creating uncertainty over which national monuments might be on the chopping block.
On April 26, Washington state senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell wrote a letter to President Trump, condemning the executive order and expressing “deep concern” due to the understanding that both the San Juan Islands and Hanford Reach (on the Columbia River) national monuments could be at risk.
But, during the week of May 8, county council member Jamie Stephens said he spoke with federal Bureau of Land Management Acting Director Michael Nedd and was assured that the San Juan Islands monument is not currently up for review.
“We’re not on the list,” Stephens said, noting that our national monument is just 1,000 acres, not over 100,000, as specified in the order. But mysteriously, meetings by the Citizen Committees that has been working with Stephens to create a management plan for the islands monument have been suspended until the end of September.
“There is a parallel group called the cooperating agencies which is comprised of all government entities that have an interest in the plan. It will continue to meet,” said Stephens. “Odd, they are suspending the groups that are open to the public and allowing the ones that hold closed meetings.” Stephens has requested permission from Nedd for the citizen groups to resume meeting. The web page detailing progress on the Resource Management Plan for the San Juan Islands National Monument (www.blm.gov/or/plans/sanjuanislandsnm/) now shows as “page not found” on the BLM website.
The list of monuments up for reevaluation was released May 5 and is available online here at www.doi.gov/pressreleases/interior-department-releases-list-monuments-under-review-announces-first-ever-formal. Hanford Reach national monument is included.
The actual wording of the order is this:
“The Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) shall conduct a review of all Presidential designations or expansions of designations under the Antiquities Act made since January 1, 1996, where the designation covers more than 100,000 acres, where the designation after expansion covers more than 100,000 acres, or where the Secretary determines that the designation or expansion was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders, to determine whether each designation or expansion conforms to the policy set forth in section 1 of this order.”
In part, the order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to evaluate how these monuments affect the nation’s ability to meet its energy requirements and maintain economic growth.
The order states, “Monument designations that result from a lack of public outreach and proper coordination with State, tribal, and local officials and other relevant stakeholders may also create barriers to achieving energy independence, restrict public access to and use of Federal lands, burden State, tribal, and local governments, and otherwise curtail economic growth.” It continues, “Designations should … appropriately balance the protection of landmarks, structures, and objects against the appropriate use of Federal lands and the effects on surrounding lands and communities.”
Zinke told the Washington Post he will examine whether designation has led to “loss of jobs, reduced wages and reduced public access,” because “some of these areas were put off limits for traditional uses, like farming, ranching, timber harvest, mining, oil and gas exploration, fishing, and motorized recreation.”
National monument status includes provisions for “existing rights” to include oil and gas leases, access to private property, valid mining claims, roads and utility infrastructure, and livestock grazing.
The 1,000-acre San Juan Islands National Monument was designated by President Obama in March 2013, placing the area under permanent federal protection under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The land is managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management. During President Obama’s tenure, he designated vast amounts of land, more than any other president by hundreds of millions of acres (George W. Bush designated 218.8 million acres). Obama created 26 national monuments covering 88.3 million acres, and also added 465.2 million acres to existing monuments.
While some U.S. citizens celebrate the protection of these lands, others see monument designation as an unconstitutional federal land grab. There are currently over 100 national monuments, each managed by one of four agencies: The National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the Bureau of Land Management. According to National Geographic, no president has ever even attempted to revoke a national monument’s status.
Efforts to re-evaluate national monuments were in part spurred by four Utah Congressmen, who asked Trump to remove that status from the controversial Bear Ears National Monument created by Obama near the end of his tenure.
Per the executive order, Zinke must provide his final findings and recommendations to the president within 120 days.
“Regardless of the determination,” said San Juan Islands National Monument manager Marcia deChadenedes, “the level of federal investment in continuing the activities that exist presently is there; we’re committed to serving the community as we always have.”
According to deChadenedes, all the San Juan county land that was designated a national monument was already under management by the federal Bureau of Land Management prior to 2013. “The actual land management area has not changed,” she said. “The BLM is continuing to manage the same land it did previous to the designation.”
She said San Juan County is home to a unique collaboration, in that all the land management organizations in the islands — state parks, the land bank, the preservation land trust, DNR, national parks, fish and wildlife, and the BLM — work together to manage resources and raise public awareness. “That collaboration is not likely to go away,” said deChadenedes, adding, “Regardless of the monument status the BLM is here to stay. We have profound investment in the community and the landscape, and we appreciate everyone.” She noted that 80 percent of the volunteer hours donated to the BLM each year in Washington state are donated in San Juan County.