Editor’s note: With national monuments and parks in the news, Human Nature answers five questions you’ve wanted to ask about the conservation areas and what the Trump Administration’s review means for their protection.
What exactly is happening?
In April, U.S. President Donald Trump directed the interior secretary to review a set of national monuments — conservation areas similar to national parks — for possible alteration or elimination. The list under review includes the desert expanse of the Vermillion Cliffs, home to the world-famous Wave; the rare grasslands of the Carrizo Plains, subject of last spring’s Instagram-friendly super bloom; and the untouched marine life of Papahānaumokuākea, a sacred area for Native Hawaiians.
As part of these reviews, Americans have submitted more than 3 million comments to the administration, the overwhelming majority of which have been in support of maintaining protections. At Conservation International, the review has received unprecedented response from our community, which submitted 31,000 comments in support — our largest campaign action to date.
How common is this sort of thing?
No U.S. president has ever attempted to rescind a designation made by a predecessor. It’s highly unpopular and unprecedented.
In all, 16 presidents — eight Republicans and eight Democrats — have established these conservation areas to protect and honor the United States’ cultural and natural treasures. Americans overall, including large majorities in Western states, support keeping national parks and similar areas the way they are, polls show.
And according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service, the president’s authority to unilaterally revoke a national monument is unclear at best.
What’s at stake?
The president’s order encompassed 27 conservation areas across 14 states and territories, but the importance of the review is global.
According to Mike Mascia, senior director of social science at Conservation International and the newly elected president of the Society for Conservation Biology, undermining conservation protections for some areas in the United States could have major impacts elsewhere.
“Beyond the potentially harmful effects on the environment and the livelihoods of the communities near these areas, decisions by the U.S. government could have a global impact,” Mascia said. “Does that give other countries the moral license to the do the same?”
National monuments are economic engines for their communities; they protect cultural and natural treasures; and they safeguard rare species and habitats. All of this is at stake in the president’s upcoming decision.
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What happens next?
The president’s order gives the secretary of the Interior until August 24 to complete his review and make recommendations. Already, the secretary has recommended reduction in the size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, although without specifying where and how that would be done.
Following any recommendation, the president must then take action, likely in the form of a presidential proclamation or order. Any such action is likely to be challenged in court.
Meanwhile, these conservation areas will sit in a sort of administrative limbo, with park rangers unable to move forward with planning for protection and visitor services for these special places and businesses unable to count on future tourism.
What can I do?
Continue to raise your voice for national monuments and other conservation areas.
Support and volunteer with local friends groups working to improve national monuments and conservation areas. Park managers work with communities to find the most effective ways to protect an area’s special characteristics, and almost all of this work is done at the site itself.
Visit and enjoy your national parks and conservation areas to show your support for protecting our most special places.
Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.
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