Reducing Antiquities Act land grabs

Undoing federal arrogance and heavy-handedness.

This article by Paul Driessen explains how land thefts were masterminded and carried out by the Clinton and Obama administrations – which took valuable state lands, multiple private lands and property rights, and a private company’s billion-dollar energy asset without any prior notice, due process or compensation whatsoever.”

Reducing Antiquities Act land grabs

Special interests blatantly misrepresent President Trump and Interior Secretary’s actions

By Paul Driessen

Acting on recommendations by Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, on December 4 President Trump significantly reduced the size of two enormous areas in Utah that Presidents Clinton and Obama had set aside as limited-access, no-development zones under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

Mr. Trump’s action reduced the Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments from a combined 3.2 million acres (the size of Connecticut) to 1.2 million acres (slightly smaller than Delaware).

Utah residents and elected officials applauded the move as long overdue. In contrast, the Patagonia and North Face outdoor apparel companies, environmentalist groups, and various liberal politicians and news outlets branded the action a desecration, claimed President Trump “stole” the lands from the American people, and launched coordinated and hyperventilated disinformation campaigns.

Thefts masterminded by previous White House officials in cahoots with radical environmentalists

In reality, the actual thefts were masterminded and conducted by previous White House officials, in cahoots with radical environmentalists. Employing the immense power of the federal government, they took valuable state lands, multiple private lands and property rights, and a private company’s most valuable asset (America’s largest clean coal deposit) without any compensation whatsoever.

The Antiquities Act was intended to protect areas of historic, prehistoric or scientific value, and lands designated as monuments were to be “the smallest size compatible with the proper care and management” of objects or sites to be protected. Its goal is to safeguard fossils, unique plants and habitats, Native artifacts and sites, geologic structures and special scenic areas from damage, desecration and looting.

The first national monument ever designated (the 1,347-acre Devils Tower) respected the law’s language and intent, as have most designations since then. However, in recent decades presidents have increasingly used the act to circumvent Congress and replace proper legislative processes with executive decrees. They established enormous de facto wilderness areas with the stroke of a pen – usually with little or no consultation with people and elected officials in communities that would be most severely impacted.

Correcting previous abuses

It is these abuses that Messrs. Zinke and Trump sought to correct. In so doing, they followed decisions by Presidents Coolidge, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Taft and Wilson, who also reduced the size of previous monument designations. The Utah changes address arguably the greatest onshore Antiquities Act abuses.

President Clinton designated the 1,880,461-acre Grand Staircase Escalante Monument in large part to make a billion-dollar coal deposit off limits, by preventing any roads from reaching it. The action was quietly engineered by Katie McGinty, his White House Environmental Policy Office director, in collaboration with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Even Mr. Clinton was not fully aware of what he was signing, and Ms. McGinty totally blindsided Utah Governor Michael Levitt, who (like every other citizen and official in Utah) knew nothing about the massive land lockup until it was a done deal.

(For all the sordid details, read chapter 12 in Cracking Big Green or chapter 4 in Undue Influence.)

President Obama designated the 1,351,849-acre Bears Ears NM three weeks before leaving office, largely to make still more energy, mineral and other resources off limits to exploration and development. He too did so without prior consultation with Utah’s governor, congressional delegation or residents. Offshore marine national monuments now total 760 million acres – 7-1/2 times the size of California!

Monument designation means exploration, drilling, mining, timber harvesting, motorized vehicles, and even grazing and gathering firewood are prohibited. People’s property rights, lives, livelihoods, living standards and life savings are grievously affected. The entire tax, job and revenue base of communities, counties and states is impacted. Thousands of acres of state “school sections” – which states are granted at the time of statehood to finance schools – are made off limits, with no compensation.

That’s real thievery.

At the very least, this demands careful consultation with the people who live there, and negotiations with their representatives to ensure that all these interests are considered and addressed. Stroke-of-the-pen monument decrees callously circumvented all these constitutional, legal and ethical safeguards. They ensured that valuable property was taken without due process or just compensation.

Taken together, the original Grand Staircase and Bears Ears Monuments were far larger than the combined acreage of Utah’s Bryce and Zion National Parks. They are in addition to Utah’s three other national parks, six other national monuments, four national recreation and conservation areas, hundreds of miles of national trails, 31 national wilderness areas, and millions of acres in other restrictive land use categories – in a state where the federal government still owns 61% of all the land.

Compare that to states east of the Mississippi, where federal agencies own, manage or control just 0.3% of Connecticut and Iowa, and 0.6% of New York, for example. People and officials in these states have no inkling of what it is like to live in Western states where 30% to 80% of all lands are federally owned.

Even more important, the remaining Utah monument areas are still huge. From Bears Ears, the new Shash Jáa monument is 130,000 acres (three times the size of Washington, DC) and Indian Creek is 72,000 acres (almost twice DC). From Grand Staircase Escalante, the new Grand Staircase is 210,000 acres (one-third of Rhode Island); Kaiparowits is 551,000 acres (81% of RI); and Escalante Canyons is 243,000 acres (36% of RI). To suggest that these monuments are now too small to safeguard their unique habitats, scenic areas, fossil sites, antiquities and Pueblo ruins is simply absurd – and disingenuous.

Imagine the Fish & Wildlife Service or other federal agency “protecting” one-half of Rhode Island or Delaware as a monument or endangered species habitat, to safeguard a Native American village site, small meteorite crater, scenic river valley, or rare fish, frog or bird habitat – on the bogus ground that making a smaller area off limits to human activity would leave it open to depredation.

Deplorable and intolerable

That’s what Utah was dealing with – along with claims that a single mine, oil well, road, ranch, town or other sign of humanity’s presence … in areas the size of Rhode Island, Delaware or even Connecticut … would forever destroy the “wilderness character” of the entire area. This is what drives environmentalist activism and decades of pre-Trump federal land management policy. It’s deplorable and intolerable.

In reality, all areas removed from highly restrictive “national monument” status remain under the management and protection of multiple federal agencies and regulations. They are not being “stolen,” given to Utah or private interests, opened to rapacious looting and development, or left defenseless.

In stark contrast to the way Presidents Clinton and Obama designated the two original monuments, these decisions to reduce their size were made only after numerous extensive meetings and consultations, over a six-month period, with local residents and leaders, tribal and inter-tribal members and delegates, local, county and congressional representatives, environmental groups and many other parties.

If any of these or other people and organizations want official wilderness or park status for any of these areas that have been returned to traditional “multiple use” management and protection – they can and should utilize the legislative processes required by the Constitution, Wilderness Act and other laws. Any other approach would be improper, unconstitutional, illegal, unethical and dismissive of local interests.

Federal arrogance and heavy-handedness

On a related front, federal arrogance and heavy-handedness took the Obama era war on coal to the Navajo Nation. Citing specious climate change, health and “viewshed” justifications, regulators issued what were effectively execution orders for the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station and its associated coal mine –destroying two pillars of the precarious Navajo economy and living standards. In league with radical greens, they also scuttled plans to build the proposed state-of-the-art Desert Rock coal-fired power plant.

As in the case of huge Utah national monument designations, Navajo families and tribal leaders were deliberately and systematically excluded from the decision-making and property confiscation process.

This is the regulatory culture and mindset that President Trump and Secretary Zinke are trying to change. For doing so, they are meeting fierce resistance and disinformation from Patagonia, North Face and their allies. Shoppers might want to keep this in mind when thinking about what to buy for holiday gifts.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow ( and author of books and articles on energy and environmental policy.

9 thoughts on “Reducing Antiquities Act land grabs

  1. Trump Administration Moves to Open Arctic Refuge to Drilling Studies

    Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:
    30,000 square miles..
    20,000,000 acres..

    Arctic National Wildlife Range was established in 1960 to preserve unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) re-designated the Range as part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and provided four purposes that guide management of the entire Refuge: to conserve animals and plants in their natural diversity, ensure a place for hunting and gathering activities, protect water quality and quantity, and fulfill international wildlife treaty obligations.

    No more…

  2. The UN’s Agenda 21, signed by Bush in 1992, is the action plan for creating the global dictatorship. The means is through land use restrictions. People are being shunted off their lands thru antiquities takeovers like this, through the tearing up of the roads that lead to their rural properties, through expanded zoning regulations about how they can use their land, through ridiculous special high utility rates for rural areas, through closures of post offices, schools & hospitals.
    To understand the big picture behind the above article I think you need to understand Agenda 21. Exc introductory summary.
    Corbett Report interview of Rosa Koire

  3. Antiquities land act.
    Just another excuse to impose the UN Agenda 21 agreement on sovereign nations.

    Everybody must be equated with the Agenda 21 proposals. Global warming is just a part of this.
    It’s insidious. If the general populations were aware of the treaties that western governments have signed their countries up for in the name of Agenda 21 there would be outrage.
    Here’s just some of the items oin the agenda
    Global warmin
    rising sea levels
    population movement – third world peoples move to first world countries in the name of Fairness.
    The fairness agenda
    Suburban Activity centers
    CBD apartments.
    The “sustainability” myth

    The next time you hear the term “Local activity center” you will now now where the idea came from.

  4. America has some amazing natural landscapes and I am glad to see these areas left in their natural state.

    It is a sad reflection on the way modern society has become so divisive that preservation of wilderness becomes a divisive political football.

    Surely we can all agree that some things are worth protecting and mountain ranges are probably the last remnants of the natural world remaining.

    Everyone will be poorer if we don’t agree to protect wilderness.

    • Rosco,
      I’m from the US and I have traveled in some of those remote areas and yes… they are gorgeous. But don’t necessarily require laws to protect them.

      Why? I think helpful to remember… some places are so wild it is almost impossible to over develop them because its just not suitable terrain to do so.

      I lived for 4 years in the town of Alpine, CA which is 35 miles east of San Diego. That was the last place where it would be possible to add much in the way of development… because it was in the foothills of some very rugged mountainous terrain. The town itself is beautiful, and many homes in the area have 365 degree views. Even my apartment had gorgeous views of the mountain. Indian reservation on the east side of town had the only large sort of flat tract (which was a valley between several mountains). I only left, BTW… because a wildfire destroyed 1/3 of the town and scared the living daylights out of me…

      The Town of Alpine itself was only built because they had a few natural mesas where people built ranches… and in a few other places had to dynamite the tops of some of the smaller mountains to have enough flat land to build any thing. And further to the east, north and south of Alpine… all surrounded by the Cleveland National Forest (which is shrubs, not trees)… it was like you fell off the edge of civilization as you know it.

      There are a few places in the back country there that are so wild and remote you could park on the side of the road and take a nap… and have a better chance of getting bit by a rattlesnake or eaten by a mountain lion than you would getting run over. Wildlife is abundant in the area, including golden eagles and mountain lions (some of the most aggressive ones anywhere), plenty of coyotes, weird escapees like coydogs … and a gazillion gophers, who with the rocky soil (or really, not soil… just crushed rock in places) keep you from growing much of anything.

      Yes there are some small towns (and a few more Indian reservations) in the back country. One of the larger old ranches, Cuyamaca, was given to the state for a park… and it is a gorgeous place. But what keeps most of the development plans at bay is the sheer expense of development in those areas. Plus high winds in the canyons, little water, and severe wildfire hazards.

      Most of the terrain is so steep there is no possible way to develop it for anything large… because either bulldozers cannot possible get in there or is very hazardous and expensive to do so. The ability to expand infrastructure into those areas is restrictive at best… even basics like water and electricity are either cost prohibitive or physically impossible.

      Really the only places where there are those small towns are older places where people hacked it out in the 1800s (due to a gold rush in Julian, on the other side of the spine of the mountains).. and haven’t grown much since. They only built a freeway that passed through the middle of Alpine in the 1970s as a better way to get from San Diego to Tucson, AZ…and not only that one… but all the other roads are more or less treacherous to drive on. Get in a crash and go off the road? You are likely to die… because you would either fall off the mountain or smack into one. No way to get EMT to you except by helicopter.

      So in effect, there are places where Mother Nature keeps the wilderness intact or enough so it is not going to ever get destroyed.

  5. Rosco, Of course everyone wants to protect wilderness areas. However Agenda 21 seeks to confine humas to just a few settlement zones. I know this sounds absurd, but if you will look at the two links I provided above you will understand that this is a real international agreement.

    Of the total US landmass, 6% is developed (urban, residential, industrial and transport). 16% is croplands, and 25% is rangeland some of which is forested.

    There is plenty of wilderness left: 47% of the US has a population of zero, and many other areas have only a few people. 75% of all Americans live in the 3% which is urban.

  6. The reality is less impressive. The difference between Connecticut and Utah or Nevada is land ownership. The 13 Colonies existed before the US was even formed and as such have very different land tenure and land holding laws. In fact, if you’re from west of the Mississippi some common terms like “town” “village” and “county” can be downright confusing as they are used the “east.”

    The western US lands were not acquired by private citizens but instead by treaties between governments and between the Federal Government and American Indian tribes like the Utes who loaned the name to Utah. The lands are the effective equivalent of “Crown Lands” in Canada and can become privately owned through homesteading (you can still homestead your house and land). The west, west of the Great Divide is mostly desert until you cross the Sierra or Cascades. That land was extremely unattractive to farmers and other settlers. Ranchers and miners, and the purveyors that provided them goods, comforts, and social relations were about all that entered the region. Because homesteads are limited by law to 160 acres – there were some artful dodges around that rule – most western ranches began as relatively small holdings. Tales of immense ranches consisting of thousands of acres refer to two main types. The common one is “accreted” ranches that were developed through buying neighboring homesteads. Sometimes the old time ranchers paid their hands to homestead and prove them. Once the hand had acquired title, he could sell it to the boss. The other kind simply used open range – technically federal land – and enjoyed the use pretty much tax free. Later, ranchers were required to lease the federal land they used. The leases were dirt cheap and I’ve spoken to at least one rancher who leased well over 100,000 acres in addition to his family ranch – an accreted 2,000-acre holding in southern Nevada.

    So, the “gotcha” as far as listing or delisting land for National Monuments is that the land is now, and was before, Federal land. So, this step does not necessarily make ANY difference in the onerousity of permitting requirements at all. The Federal regulations remain unchanged and at no time is the Bureau of Land Management required to permit and build roads the BLM in support of private financial interests.. So, while a mineral claim can be staked – even in a National Monument – the rest of population is in no way obliged to provide taxes to support the claim or provide access to it. There’s a great deal still to work through and there will be a lot more screaming from blues and reds.

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