This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Our new president, like any new president, is not only within his rights, but arguably doing no more than his proper due diligence, to order a review of policies laid down by his predecessors.
So, all by itself, the move that is reportedly coming from the White House to have another look at the designation of various national monuments over the past 21 years is not necessarily a bad thing.
But those who opposed Barack Obama's recent designation of the Bears Ears National Monument and Bill Clinton's 1996 preservation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument should not get their hopes up that the administration will have either the desire or the ability to turn back time.
For one thing, there is no precedent for any president to undo such a designation although boundaries of the protected territories have been tweaked a few times.
The federal law known as the Antiquities Act is a broad delegation of powers to any president to offer extensive protections to expanses of federal property seen as holding land, artifacts or features that are unique, beautiful and coveted by miners, drillers and ranchers. It says nothing about un-designating anything and, if anyone would try it, the whole thing would be tied up in court for years to come.
For another, even if the current president, or some future one, did succeed in canceling the monument designations for these two Utah locations, that would not do much to give would-be exploiters of the land the freedom they seek. The land was, is and will remain federal property, subject to federal laws, regulations and supervision.
The most important thing to realize, though, is that monument designation has been good for the land so designated and for surrounding populations.
The economic activities limited by the designations digging mines, drilling wells, running cattle would not be particularly profitable in that neck of the woods anyway. At least, not without heavy taxpayer subsidies.
The sector that is enlivened by the designations travel and tourism is the future of each area and has already boosted economic activity in the vicinity. Failure to grasp that point has already cost Utah the extremely lucrative twice-annual Outdoor Retailers show, and maintaining such willful ignorance can only hurt us further.
One useful compromise might be to amend the Antiquities Act so as to codify requirements for more local input but not local veto rights into future designations. That kind of openness didn't happen with Grand Staircase but, despite protests to the contrary from Utah elected officials, it clearly did with Bears Ears.
It is possible that the people who now run the federal government would perform some mostly symbolic act of trimming or redrawing the boundaries of one or both monuments as a way of throwing a bone to their fellow Republicans in Utah, allowing them to declare victory and go home.
But undoing or significantly cutting back on the land included in Grand Staircase-Escalante or Bears Ears would be unwise, perhaps illegal and clearly not in the best economic, cultural or spiritual interest of either the immediate neighborhood or the nation as a whole.
A review that comes to any other conclusion would be a mistake.