Recently, President Donald Trump signed an executive order instructing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review dozens of national monuments with an eye towards either shrinking the monuments or eliminating them altogether. The order involves all monuments designated in the last 21 years that are larger than 100,000 acres or those that Zinke decides were designated without enough local input.
Designated in 2001, the 377,000-acre Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is subject to this review. Established the same year, Pompeys Pillar National Monument could also be scrutinized.
Flanking Trump and Zinke at the signing was a delegation from Utah: Gov. Gary Herbert, Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Rep. Rob Bishop – none of whom have been shy about expressing their contempt for national monuments and their desire to sell off public lands. Using the same overheated rhetoric these politicians use to smear monuments, public lands, and public land managers, Trump made it clear he was signing the order at the behest of his Utah allies – an affront to the 77 percent of Montanans and 80 percent of Westerners who, according to a 2017 Colorado College poll, support existing national monuments.
With this order, anti-public land extremism rooted in Utah now casts its shadow over Montana, threatening our outdoor way of life, our public lands, and the business owners and ranchers whose livelihoods depend on those lands. It also threatens our culture, history, and outdoor heritage – the parts of our national and regional identity that monuments are designated to protect.
Trump’s order comes at a time when Utah’s lawmakers and others, including Montana Sen. Steve Daines, are pushing legislation to gut the Antiquities Act. A central pillar of Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy, this 1906 law gives U.S. presidents the authority to designate monuments – that is, to set aside and safeguard public lands with outstanding natural, cultural, historical, and scientific value to the people of this country. Over the past 110 years, 16 presidents – eight Democrats and eight Republicans – have used the Antiquities Act to designate 157 national monuments.
Trump made quite clear in his remarks that he shares his Utah allies’ contempt for this law because he claims it gets in the way of oil, gas, and mining corporations that want to exploit these places for their own short-sighted ends.
In the two years leading up to the designation of the Upper Missouri River Breaks in 2001, a series of local meetings occurred across Montana. They involved the secretary of the Interior, Montana’s governor and Congressional delegation, and the Bureau of Land Management. Polls and comments showed then, as they do now, that a majority of Montanans think the Missouri Breaks deserved to be protected. Its designation as a monument provides that protection while also allowing cattle grazing and maintaining the valid mining claims and oil and gas leases that existed at the time of designation. To this day, even opponents of the monument acknowledge that the designation has had no effect whatsoever on private property.
Protection of this vast landscape ensures that future generations will enjoy the same opportunity we now have to experience some of the best big game hunting in the world; to view tipi rings, rock art, and other artifacts that go back thousands of years; and to camp and hike in the same riverside spots that Lewis and Clark did in 1802. Like Pompeys Pillar, which memorializes a place on the Yellowstone River where Captain William Clark etched his name, the Missouri Breaks and other monuments allow us to physically connect with our history and participate in our outdoor heritage – in perpetuity.
But not if Zinke and Trump kowtow to the demands of Utah’s politicians.
Montana’s three monuments, including the Little Bighorn Battlefield, are places that tell the story of where we come from and of who we are – as Native Americans, as European Americans, as Montanans. Join us in urging Secretary Zinke to stand up for our cultural heritage and leave the Antiquities Act and our national monuments alone.
Hugo Tureck is a public lands rancher and president of Friends of the Missouri Breaks; Susan Barrow is a board member of Friends of Pompeys Pillar; and Shane Doyle is an educator, Crow tribal member, and supporter of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.