Heads-up, Hikers: What’s Next for National Monuments?

Next up for potential National Monument shrinkage are Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon, Gold Butte in Nevada, the Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll.  I’ll focus on the former two since those clearly affect hikers the most.  

But first, bear with me . . . . Since this whole issue has provided massive fuel for online, water cooler, and even holiday dinner table arguments, I want to make sure that our American Hiking members have the facts, with all the confusion stripped away.  And, believe me, if you’re confused on this, you’re definitely not alone.  So this blog is going to be a little longer than usual; and you’ll find that every link in this blog goes back to a government document, government press release, or non-partisan study, not back to any opinion articles or even to investigative journalism pieces.   I do encourage you to let me know if you find anything in here that is factually incorrect, misleading, misinterpreted, or explained unclearly; because what I’m trying to do is the opposite.


The Administration itself is sowing a fair amount of the confusion by saying one thing in speeches and actually doing another

(and I have found that the media are often propagating that confusion).  Let me give you a few examples . . .

“I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens.” President Trump, December 4.

The Proclamations that reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante did no such thing.  The lands now outside of monument boundaries are still owned by the federal government and always have been — they simply revert back to being undesignated, public land; the state of Utah (and, by extension, its citizens) DOES NOT own any of that land now.  In addition, there is nothing to “restore” since Utah citizens never owned the land in the first place and since their “rights” to that land (access for grazing, hiking, hunting, fishing, traditional Native American uses, etc.) were never taken away.

“The Antiquities Act does not give the Federal Government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice. Public lands will once again be for public use.”President Trump, December 4.

He’s right that the Antiquities Act does not do that.  However, it is incorrect to imply that the Antiquities Act was ever violated.  Monuments are not different from public land — they are a type of public land; therefore, the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments were never “locked up,” and they were always available for public use.  

“Families will hike and hunt on land they have known for generations, and they will preserve it for generations to come.”President Trump, December 4.

Hiking and hunting were never forbidden at either of those national monuments.


And then there’s the misunderstandings flying around social media, so a few reminders . . . .

  1. No president can “steal” land from the public, private owners, or states and turn it into a National Monument.  I can’t repeat it enough. Presidents can only create National Monuments under the Antiquities Act and only on land already owned by the federal government.
  2. Creating a National Monument, which is itself a type of public land, does not mean that now you can’t go there.  You can.  It is still public land.  There are just some restrictions that vary per location on what you can do.  Depending on the monument, ranchers can still graze their cattle, hunters can still hunt, fishermen can still fish, and land can still be leased for mining.  


To find out what you can do at each of the over 100 monuments . . .

Unfortunately, you have to look them up individually (if only there were a single table with allowed and prohibited activities in every monument!).  Trusted sources of accurate information include: the Presidential Proclamation that created it; the webpages maintained by whichever federal agency(cies) manages the monument; government-produced FAQs and fact sheets; non-partisan studies; etc.  In August 2017, as part of its The Economic Importance of National Monuments to Communities series, Headwaters Economics, a nonpartisan think tank, compiled this information for 17 national monuments 10,000 acres or more in size and created after 1982 in Western States; of note, in none of those monuments has hunting been forbidden, and grazing has only been forbidden in two.  We do not know of a single national monument where hiking on designated trails is not allowed, though you’ll want to check ahead of time whether and where camping and campfires are allowed.   Within the blog below, you’ll find the relevant links for Cascade-Siskiyou and Gold Butte.


But wait  . . . then why all the fuss then about local residents “losing their control over and rights to” the land within monuments?  

Let’s see if I can make it clearer than I did before.  It’s a complicated issue, but, in a nutshell, it boils down to 3 things . . .

Pssst . . . remember, local residents never had “control” of the land anyway . . . it was always federal, public land.

  1. Economics: Once undesignated public land (i.e., land owned by the federal government but not having a special protection designation) has been designated as a National Monument, it cannot be opened up for energy sector or other large-scale commercial use or for sale.  So, that means that the local economy loses the potential benefits of the jobs and natural resource taxes that may have come from leasing to private enterprise and that private citizens cannot buy property there.  That said, National Monuments bring in tourism and recreation dollars and attract business, all of which can outweigh any positive effects of potential natural resource extraction.  
  2. Transparency of Process: Every National Monument designation (from Republican and Democrat Presidents) has involved a different level of external consultation and background research leading up to creating it, so valid questions have been raised about the opacity of the process in some cases.
  3. Personal Philosophy:  Some folks feel that the federal government should not own or manage any land at all.


Okay, now that we finally have that cleared up (phew!) . . . . we can turn to the next two monuments in question . . .



Created: in 2000 by President Clinton and then expanded in 2017 by President Obama

Why?:  This monument covers some of the most biologically diverse area in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon and is of unique geological significance.

What was happening on that land before it became a monument?:  It was owned by the federal government (except for a few small, private inholdings) and managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a federal government agency.   The Pacific Crest Trail runs through this area, so hiking has always been popular.  BLM was leasing land for logging and grazing; and hunting, fishing, hiking, climbing, camping, and horseback riding have always been allowed.

What is allowed there now that it is a monument?:

  • All of the same activities as before, except grazing is allowed to continue only as long as it has no negative ecological effects, and commercial logging is forbidden.  Also, should a rancher relinquish their grazing allotment, the allotment will not be leased to anyone else, unless it serves the protection purposes of the monument.
  • Motorized vehicle use only on designated roads.
  • Continued private ownership and use of private inholdings.

Quick aside — You might be wondering what a “private inholding” is.   They’re “islands” of privately-owned land within federally-owned boundaries that were never sold to the federal government.

What might happen for hikers under a Presidential Proclamation?  Secretary Zinke has recommended that the boundary be redrawn (but provides no specifics); that the land revert back to BLM-managed, undesignated land; and that logging once again be allowed by lease.  Depending on where it happens and how it is managed, those activities could affect hikers by: cutting off access to trails, producing noise pollution, significantly negatively impacting the environment, and decreasing opportunities for solitude.  The report does not provide any clarity on whether changes to grazing rights are proposed.   Any positive effects of a Proclamation would likely be limited to local economic growth (though, again, the local economy could instead be unaffected by or even decline as a result of monument shrinkage) — there are no expected positive effects of monument shrinkage for hikers.

Note that the eventual Presidential Proclamation could go further — for example, Secretary Zinke did not mention in his recommendations opening up of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante areas for potential mining and private sale, but the final Presidential Proclamations specifically do.  


Gold Butte

Created: in 2016 by President Obama

Why?: Protection of biological diversity, Native American petroglyphs, and traditional Native American uses.

What was happening on that land before it became a monument?:  The area was public land managed by the BLM and has always been popular for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and mountain biking.  Military training has also occurred there, as have traditional Native American activities.  Grazing has not been permitted on that land since 1998, and it was not being leased to extractive industries.

What is allowed there now that it is a monument?:  All of the same activities as before, except that off-highway vehicle use is only allowed on designated roads and lease to extractive industries (mining, oil drilling, etc.) is explicitly forbidden.  Pre-existing water rights have also continued.

What might happen for hikers under a Presidential Proclamation?  Secretary Zinke has recommended that the area designated as a monument be shrunk and revert back simply to undesignated, BLM-managed land.  Thus, while not specifically recommended, that land could be open for lease to natural resource extraction companies (if any such resources exist) or private sale.  Depending on how those activities are managed, for hikers, that could mean: noise pollution, decreasing chances to find solitude, shuttered access to trails, and significant negative effects on aesthetics and the environment.  Any positive effects of a Proclamation would likely be limited to local economic growth (though, again, the local economy could instead be unaffected by or even decline as a result of monument shrinkage) — there are no expected positive effects of monument shrinkage for hikers.

For more information on which protected lands are under review, check out the recommendations report, released to the public December 5 (the day AFTER the announcements in Utah to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante), which went from Secretary of the Interior Zinke to President Trump in August, in response to an April directive from the President.


Article by Kate Van Waes, Executive Director at American Hiking Society