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Missouri River

The 149-mile stretch Wild and Scenic designation of the Missouri, combined with 375,000 acres of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument and 915,814 acres of the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, protects an area about the size of the state of Delaware.

The presidential executive order to review 24 national monuments for potential resizing or elimination has drawn heated response from voices across the West.

President Donald Trump’s order tells Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all monument designations larger than 100,000 acres made since 1996 to “restore trust between local communities and Washington and (root) out abuses of power by previous administrations,” according to an email statement from Zinke on Wednesday.

While the order, issued Tuesday, does not strip any monument's designation, Zinke said in his statement that it would redirect the Interior Department to manage federal lands “in accordance to traditional ‘multiple-use’ philosophy.”

“In the Trump Administration, we listen and then we act,” Zinke said in the email. “For years, the people of Utah and other rural communities have voiced concern and opposition to some monument designations. But too often in recent history, exiting presidents make designations despite those concerns. And the acreage is increasing.”

Zinke specifically mentioned Clinton’s 1996 Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and President Barack Obama’s 2016 Bears Ears National Monument as examples of “overreach.” The order also affects Montana’s 377,346-acre Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument established by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

“There’s more to this decision than meets the eye,” Missoula-based Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Conservation Director John Gale said in an email. “Neither sportsmen nor other public lands users would stand in the way of an objective attempt to ensure the integrity of recent monument designations. Yet the administration’s announcement could create unintended consequences that jeopardize important fish and wildlife habitat on public lands and invite unproductive dialogues that distract us from enhancing management of our public lands and waters.”

Indiana University environmental law professor Robert Fischman noted that the Antiquities Act gives a president the power to designate a national monument, but stands silent on disestablishment. So while Trump can order reviews of borders and management, he said only Congress has authority to erase a monument.

“I think what is happening here is that President Trump wants to make a big show of ordering a review (for which he needs no executive order) to appease opponents of monuments and parks,” Fischman wrote in an email. “Then, he can do nothing but make some suggestions to Congress. Revoking monument designations would undermine much of Trump’s popular support.

“Congress has altered and disestablished parks,” Fischman continued. “The presidents have altered monument boundaries. None were done with the kind of fanfare we are seeing today. I think that suggests that Trump is acting for the fanfare and not for the disestablishment/revocation agenda.”

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Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute Center for Energy and Environment, praised the executive order as a counter-move to other presidents’ “massive land grabs.”

“Presidents at least since Bill Clinton have misused the Antiquities Act of 1906 to lock up millions of acres of federal lands,” Ebell wrote in an email. “Some of these National Monument designations have had devastating effects on the people living near them. Jobs in resource industries have been destroyed, access for recreation and hunting has been eliminated, and environmental degradation has resulted from replacing active land management with de facto wilderness non-management.”

The Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics research organization in 2014 studied the economic performance of 17 national monuments larger than 10,000 acres in 11 Western states created since 1982. It found local communities at all 17 locations maintained or grew in population, employment, personal income and per-capita income. It found no evidence that designating those monuments prevented economic growth.

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The study included Grand Staircase Escalante and Upper Missouri Breaks, but was done before Bear’s Ears.

“Judging by the president's comments today, it's clear that he and his allies in Congress want to cripple, if not destroy, the Antiquities Act, an essential pillar of our public lands legacy,” says Montana Wilderness Association Conservation Director John Todd, who spent 10 seasons guiding people through the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

Coincidentally, two members of the House and one senator reintroduced one of the most sweeping wilderness designation bills to Congress on Wednesday. Known as the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, it would enroll about 23 million acres of federal roadless lands as wilderness in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington. Additionally, it would designate about 1,800 miles of rivers and streams as federal Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island submitted the companion bills in both chambers.

Supporters claimed the bill would save taxpayers $245 million over 10 years by eliminating subsidized development in wilderness study and recommended wilderness areas, while creating 2,300 new jobs for restoring lands to wilderness character. Critics of the bill, which has been introduced numerous times but never received a vote, argue it has no support among the affected state congressional delegations.

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