Continuing its pattern of bypassing Congress and acting unilaterally through administrative fiat, the Obama White House in February designated three new areas as “National Monuments.”
While two of the designations — one in Illinois, the other in Hawaii — involve relatively small parcels of land, the designation of 21,000 acres of Brown’s Canyon in Colorado represents a significant federal lockup of land.
The move was welcomed by environmentalists and Democrats. Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) told the Washington Times (Feb. 19) that the canyon has “a rugged and unique beauty that attracts outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.” Bennett added that “Coloradans have been very clear they wanted this protection, along with assurances that existing uses will be protected. We’re glad the Administration heard those voices and provided those assurances.”
But Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) doesn’t trust the Administration’s “assurances,” and he scolded the President for making the designation without the consent of Congress. “He is not king. No more acting like King Barrack,” Buck told the Times. “This is not how we do things in the U.S. Actions like this lead the American people to view Mr. Obama’s presidency as an imperial presidency.”
Contrary to Buck’s assertion, this is exactly how thing are done in the U.S. Beginning with the designation of Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante as a national monument in 1996, the Clinton and Obama Administrations have used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create national monuments without the formal approval of state officials or members of the congressional delegation from state where designations were made. And in its eight years in office, the Bush Administration made no effort to overturn monument designation on federal land in Utah.
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CAA) doesn’t put much stock in the Administration’s assurances, either. Together with the Public Lands Council (PLC), the CAA, according to fowlertribune.com (Feb. 22), wants the following points clarified in the monument designation:
- Motorized access must continue to be allowed for permit administration, range improvement, and water maintenance.
- Explicit language must be written into the designation that allows cattle and sheep producers to trail their livestock to and from their federal grazing allotments through portions of the designated area.
- Weeds and weed control must also be addressed in the rules of implementation, particularly in headwaters areas.
- Language must be included in the designation implementation to ensure that changes in the numbers of authorized livestock are based on facts, and not on the whims of land managers.
- Language that would explicitly ensure that permits are transferable to new permittees/owners in the exact same manner as was the case prior to designation of the national monument is also required.
- Water rights must be expressly recognized in wilderness acts that further codify states’ water laws.
Between this wish list and the Obama Administration’s determination to tighten its grip on rural economies, particularly those in the resource-rich West, lies a wide gap. Ranchers, hoping to preserve a way of life that has existed for generations, have their work cut out for them. The Administration’s “assurances” mean nothing.