On April 26, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order instructing the Department of the Interior to review all national monuments created since Jan. 1, 1996 that contain more than 100,000 acres. The executive order could put more than 20 national monuments created by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, in jeopardy. The monuments include a vast array of landscapes and historical sites.
Trump said the order would end the "egregious abuse of federal power" and return it "back to the states and to the people, where it belongs."
"The previous administration used a 100-year-old law known as the Antiquities Act to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control," Trump said, "eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land. Today, we are putting the states back in charge."
Trump was referring to the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the power to limit public use of land for historic, cultural and scientific reasons, by naming the areas as national monuments. President Teddy Roosevelt signed it into action. National monuments are usually smaller than national parks, and protect one "nationally significant resource," while national parks are designed to preserve many natural resources. National parks can only be established by Congress.
This latest executive order does not invalidate the monuments' current designations. Instead, it requires Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review them in the next 120 days and determine whether the previous presidents named them "in accordance with the requirements and original objectives" of the Antiquities Act, and whether they balance "the protection of landmarks, structures, and objects against the appropriate use of federal lands and the effects on surrounding lands and communities."
But if the answer to that is "no," one big question still remains: Can one president undo a previous president's proclamation to establish a national monument? It's never happened in the 111-year-history of the Antiquities Act, and many legal analysts and environmental groups say no. "This review is a first step toward monument rollbacks, which we will fight all the way," Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told USA Today. "These public lands belong to all of us."
So which national monuments are under review by the Department of Interior? See the photo gallery below for more information.
Now That's Interesting
Whether or not Donald Trump has the power to reverse the status of any national monument remains to be seen. But an analysis by the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan policy arm of Congress, says he likely does not. The report says that "once a President has applied the Antiquities Act to protect objects of historic or scientific interest, only Congress can undo that protection."
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