Pres­i­dents cut mon­u­ments 18 times be­fore Bears Ears

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “un­prece­dented” ef­fort to break up and shrink a na­tional mon­u­ment has been done at least 18 times be­fore, with pres­i­dents of both par­ties ex­er­cis­ing power to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the size of U.S. land­marks es­tab­lished by their pre­de­ces­sors.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and con­gres­sional Democrats are fram­ing the cur­rent bat­tle — the In­te­rior De­part­ment’s pro­posal to re­size Bears Ears Na­tional Mon­u­ment in Utah — as a first-of-its-kind ex­pan­sion of ex­ec­u­tive power, a move that stretches to the break­ing point the cen­tury-old An­tiq­ui­ties Act, which gives pres­i­dents au­thor­ity to cre­ate mon­u­ments.

The re­siz­ing of Bears Ears is just one piece of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s broader re­view of nearly two dozen na­tional mon­u­ments.

The Sierra Club, one of the nation’s most pow­er­ful en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, is­sued a fundrais­ing email last week call­ing the Bears Ears pro­posal a “legally un­prece­dented ac­tion.”

Con­gres­sional Democrats voiced sim­i­lar ob­jec­tions. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Ore­gon called the en­tire mon­u­ment re­view “legally du­bi­ous,” and Sen. Ron Wy­den, also of Ore­gon, said the pres­i­dent’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der call­ing for the re­view “flies in the face of a cen­tury-old bi­par­ti­san tra­di­tion.”

The re­al­ity, how­ever, is much dif­fer­ent. If any­thing, there is a tra­di­tion of pres­i­dents mak­ing ma­jor changes to mon­u­ments. In 1915, Pres­i­dent Wilson cut the size of Wash­ing­ton’s Mount Olym­pus Na­tional Mon­u­ment by more than 300,000 acres.

“It can be done, and past pres­i­dents have done it. It demon­strated the truth of what I’ve said all along: Just as no Congress can bind a fu­ture Congress, no pres­i­dent can bind the nation in per­pe­tu­ity. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Wil­liam Perry Pend­ley, pres­i­dent of the Moun­tain States Le­gal Foun­da­tion, a non­profit group that bat­tled the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in court over Pres­i­dent Clin­ton’s cre­ation of the mas­sive Grand Stair­case-Es­calante Na­tional Mon­u­ment in Utah.

That mon­u­ment is also un­der re­view by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I don’t think it would take the courts long at all to dis­pose of any chal­lenge to the pres­i­den­tial au­thor­ity to do this,” Mr. Pend­ley said.

The An­tiq­ui­ties Act — which says mon­u­ments should be limited to the small­est area com­pat­i­ble with the site or ob­ject be­ing pro­tected — does not ex­plic­itly give pres­i­dents power to down­size mon­u­ments or elim­i­nate them al­to­gether.

But for more than a cen­tury, pres­i­dents have cut mon­u­ments, and their ef­forts haven’t been thwarted by Congress or the courts.

It has been done at least 18 times since the An­tiq­ui­ties Act was signed into law in 1906, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion from the Na­tional Park Ser­vice and the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee.

Most were rel­a­tively small. Franklin D. Roo­sevelt cut Ari­zona’s Wu­patki Na­tional Mon­u­ment by 52 acres, and Dwight D. Eisen­hower cut Alaska’s Glacier Bay by 4,193 acres. Wil­liam Howard Taft, John F. Kennedy, Calvin Coolidge and Harry S. Tru­man also re­duced sizes of mon­u­ments.

Eisen­hower and Roo­sevelt were the most ac­tive, cut­ting six and four mon­u­ments, re­spec­tively.

Wash­ing­ton’s Mount Olym­pus, now a part of Olympic Na­tional Park, has been the most fre­quent tar­get. In 1909, Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt granted mon­u­ment sta­tus cov­er­ing more than 610,000 acres.

But its size was quickly re­duced. Taft in 1912 elim­i­nated 160 acres. Wilson dra­mat­i­cally cut the mon­u­ment by about 50 per­cent in 1915. Coolidge re­duced the mon­u­ment by 640 acres, ac­cord­ing to Na­tional Park Ser­vice data.

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