Fate of the Carrizo Plain National Monument Still Unknown
Source: Los Padres Forest Watch
Today, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivered his highly-anticipated recommendations to President Trump on the fate of more than two dozen national monuments that have been under review for possible reduction or elimination. The Carrizo Plain National Monument – located along California’s central coast region – was one of the monuments considered most vulnerable during the review.
The details of Secretary Zinke’s recommendations, however, are still publicly unknown. While Secretary Zinke’s office issued a news release and a two-page summary of his report, the report contains no substantive recommendations and only summarizes his review process over the last two months.
“Today’s announcement is one more example of how this administration disrespects our nation’s public lands,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a conservation organization based in Santa Barbara that led a coalition of organizations, businesses, and elected officials in support of retaining the Carrizo Plain’s monument status. “The nation – and especially the 2.8 million people who took time out of their busy lives to participate in this process and submit comments – are left in the dark by today’s announcement. Our public lands deserve better than this. How much longer must we wait until we learn the fate of this iconic landscape right here in our own backyard?”
The Carrizo Plain National Monument has enjoyed overwhelming public support throughout San Luis Obispo, Kern, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties and beyond:
- More than 140 local businesses wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Zinke, highlighting the economic benefits of the Carrizo Plain’s monument status and urging him not to shrink its boundaries and to keep its protections in place;
- More than 40 local elected officials – including 5 of the 7 mayors in San Luis Obispo County – wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Zinke, expressing their support for the Carrizo Plain;
- More than 50 community organizations including museums, botanic gardens, zoos, conservation organizations, historic societies, and others joined together to pledge their support for the Carrizo Plain;
- Nearly 4,000 comments were submitted by central coast residents, specifically citing the Carrizo Plain and urging Secretary Zinke to keep the area protected.
- Approximately 2.8 million public comments were received during the formal review period. More than 99% of those comments were in favor of keeping national monuments protected. 97% of comments pertaining to the Carrizo Plain were supportive of its monument status.
“After taking only three months to review the nearly 17 year-old Carrizo Plain National Monument and allowing only a short 60 days for public comment, it is unacceptable for the Interior Secretary to now withhold his full recommendations from the public,” said ForestWatch conservation director Bryant Baker. “We will continue to pressure the Administration – which obviously expects public outrage at the results of this sham review – to release information on whether they plan to shrink the Carrizo Plain or open this treasured landscape up to destructive activities like oil drilling.”
“There is overwhelming support, across political and socio-economic divides, locally and beyond, for making no change to the Carrizo Plain National Monument,” said ForestWatch public lands advocate Rebecca August. “If Zinke truly takes the will of the American people into consideration, he will leave its borders and protections untouched, so it can continue to be a resource to our communities for generations.”
Secretary Zinke’s report was ordered by President Trump in April, and affected all national monuments designated since 1996 larger than 100,000 acres. The 206,000-acre Carrizo Plain National Monument – designated by President Clinton in 2001 – was swept up in this review. This iconic landscape contains one of the last undeveloped grasslands in the Central Valley, contains a rich assemblage of prehistoric Native American rock art and cultural sites, and unique landmarks like Soda Lake, the San Andreas Fault, and Caliente Mountain, the highest point in San Luis Obispo County. It also provides habitat for unique and endangered plants and animals like tule elk, pronghorn antelope, California jewelflower, San Joaquin kit fox, and foraging habitat for California condors.
ForestWatch will continue to build support in the community for keeping the Carrizo Plain like it is, and will hold Secretary Zinke and the Trump Administration accountable to ensure that no changes are made to this iconic landscape.
Here is the report summary by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke:
In 1906, Congress delegated to the President the power to designate a monument under the Antiquities Act (Act). The Act authorizes the President singular authority to designate national monuments without public comment, environmental review, or further consent of Congress. Given this extraordinary executive power, Congress wisely placed limits on the President by defining the objects that may be included within a monument as being “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest,” by restricting the authority to Federal lands, and by limiting the size of the monument to "the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.” Congress retained its authority to make land use designations without such limitations. Even with the restrictive language, use of the Act has not always been without controversy. In fact, even Theodore Roosevelt's first proclamation of the roughly 1,200 acre Devil's Tower in Wyoming was controversial. Since that time, the use of the Act has largely been viewed as an overwhelming American success story and today includes almost 200 of America's greatest treasures.
More recently, however, the Act’s executive authority is under scrutiny as administrations have expanded both the size and scope of monument designations. Since 1996 alone, the Act has been used by the President 26 times to create monuments that are over 100,000 acres or more in size and have included private property within the identified external boundaries. While early monument designations focused more on geological formations, archaeological ruins, and areas of historical interest, a more recent and broad interpretation of what constitutes an “object of historic or scientific interest” has been extended to include landscape areas, biodiversity, and view sheds. Moreover, features such as World War II desert bombing craters and remoteness have been included in justifying proclamations.
The responsibility of protecting America's public lands and unique antiquities should not be taken lightly; nor should the authority and the power granted to a President under the Act. No President should use the authority under the Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object. It is Congress and not the President that has the authority to make protective land designations outside of the narrow scope of the Act, and only Congress retains the authority to enact designations such as national parks, wilderness, and national conservation and recreation areas. The executive power under the Act is not a substitute for a lack of congressional action on protective land designations.
President Trump was correct in tasking the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to review and provide recommendations of all monuments that were designated from 1996 to the present that are 100,000 acres or greater in size or made without adequate public consultation. This is far from the first time an examination of scope of monuments has been conducted. Existing monuments have been modified by successive Presidents in the past, including 18 reductions in the size of monuments, and there is no doubt that President Trump has the authority to review and consider recommendations to modify or add a monument.
The methodology used for the review consisted of three steps. The first step was to gather the facts which included the examination of existing proclamations, object(s) to be protected, segregation of the objects (if practical) to meet the "smallest area compatible" requirement, the scientific and rational basis for the boundaries, land uses within the monument, public access concerns and authorized traditional uses, and appropriate environmental and cultural protections. As directed by the President, the second step was to ensure that the local voice was heard by holding meetings with local, state, tribal, and other elected officials as well as meetings with non-profit groups and other stakeholders, as well as providing an online format for public comment. The final step was to review policies on public access, hunting and fishing rights, traditional use such as timber production and grazing, economic and environmental impacts, potential legal conflicts, and provide a report to the President no later than August 24, 2017.
The review found that each monument was unique in terms of the object(s) used for justification, proclamation language, history, management plans, economic impact, and local support. Adherence to the Act’s definition of an “object” and “smallest area compatible” clause on some monuments were either arbitrary or likely politically motivated or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource
management. Despite the apparent lack of adherence to the purpose of the Act, some monuments reflect a long public debate process and are largely settled and strongly supported by the local community. Other monuments remain controversial and contain significant private property within the identified external boundary or overlap with other Federal land designations such as national forests, Wilderness Study Areas, and lands specifically set aside by Congress for timber production.
Public comments can be divided into two principal groups. Proponents tended to promote monument designation as a mechanism to prevent the sale or transfer of public land. This narrative is false and has no basis in fact. Public lands within a monument are federally owned and managed regardless of monument designation under the Act. Proponents also point to the economic benefits from increased tourism from monument recognition. On this point, monument status has a potential economic benefit of increased visitation, particularly to service related industries, outdoor recreation industries, and other businesses dependent or supported by tourism. Increased visitation also places an additional burden and responsibility on the Federal Government to provide additional resources and manpower to maintain these lands to better support increased visitation and recreational activities.
Comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments and demonstrated a well- orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations. Opponents of monuments primarily supported rescinding or modifying the existing monuments to protect traditional multiple use, and those most concerned were often local residents associated with industries such as grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and fishing, and motorized recreation. Opponents point to other cases where monument designation has resulted in reduced public access, road closures, hunting and fishing restrictions, multiple and confusing management plans, reduced grazing allotments and timber production, and pressure applied to private land owners encompassed by or adjacent to a monument to sell.