“The President Stole Your Land.”
This is the blaring message visitors to the Patagonia website receive when they go online to buy overpriced outdoor gear from the chichi fleecing company. That headline appears in a stark white-on-black presentation with the following caption:
In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history.
This headline and its accompanying explanation have generated a great deal of social media outrage, despite that nothing about the three sentences in question is actually true. Indeed, seldom has so much dishonesty been packed into words as few.
So let’s begin with the end and work backwards.
The national monument has been reduced, but the land is still protected
In order to achieve “the largest elimination of protected land in American history,” the Trump administration would have to do one of two things. Their first option is eliminating the land itself, perhaps by means of a nuclear explosion, a federally-triggered volcanic eruption, or perhaps some combination of corrosive gas or space lasers. The second option, merely eliminating the protections on said land, is much more practical, but it’s no less silly than the choices in Option #1.
That’s because removing the national monument designation on these lands does not remove federal protections. All of the land in question remains owned by the federal government, and all of it retains a great deal of federal protection.
From the official Department of the Interior press release:
[T]he report does not recommend that a single acre of federal land be removed from the federal estate. If land no longer falls within a monument boundary it will continue to be federal land and will be managed by whichever agency managed the land before designation…
Myth: The monument review will sell/transfer public lands to states.
False: This is not true. The Secretary adamantly opposes the wholesale sale or transfer of public lands. The Antiquities Act only allows federal land to be reserved as a national monument. Therefore, if any monument is reduced, the land would remain federally owned and would be managed by the appropriate federal land management agency, such as the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the National Park Service (NPS).
In many instances, the land in question reverts to being designated as wilderness, which is defined as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Restrictions on federal wilderness areas are even more stringent than areas designated as national monuments, and not even “mechanized vehicles” such as bicycles or wheelchairs are allowed on them. Far from eliminating federal protections, President Trump has actually enhanced them for a large chunk of this real estate.
Patagonia should distinguish between the various types of protected land
And while the non-wilderness areas will not be completely off-limits, that does not mean they will be open for strip mining and/or strip malls. Federal regulations on multiple use are rigorous, and while it is possible to temporarily lease some of the land after a lengthy approval process, none of this land can be sold to private developers without congressional authorization.
Working backwards, it’s also rather absurd to call this action “an illegal move.” It’s true that the Antiquities Act that authorizes presidential creation of national monuments is vague on the authority of said presidents to reduce their size, but that has not stopped presidents from doing precisely that.
Again, from the Department of the Interior release:
Myth: No president has shrunk a monument.
False: Monuments have been reduced at least eighteen times under presidents on both sides of the aisle. Some examples include President John F. Kennedy excluding Bandelier National Monument, Presidents Taft, Wilson, and Coolidge reducing Mount Olympus National Monument, and President Eisenhower reducing the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado.
So given those facts, how can it be said that the “president stole your land?” The land itself is still there, and you still have the right to visit it. If anything, the president has given you greater access to that land, allowing it to be used responsibly while still maintaining the necessary protection to keep it in its pristine condition. That’s the condition it was in prior to 1996’s massive land grab by the Clinton administration, as well as prior to last year’s hasty Bears Ears designation. The local residents who have earned a living on that land for generations have no interest in seeing it damaged or desecrated, and changing the designation will, if anything, allow for a more responsible stewardship of the area than by bureaucrats who have no stake in the area’s future.
So please keep that in mind as you purchase overpriced online ski gear from scaremongering retailers.
(Photo of a Patagonia store sign by David Dugdale via Flickr)