On August 17, five days after neo-Nazis and white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the city’s decision to remove a bronze statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, President Donald Trump, already under fire for refusing to fully condemn the hate groups, tweeted, “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.” He added, “… the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!” And yet four months earlier, Trump had issued an executive order seeking to roll back protections for roughly two dozen national monuments that Native Americans, historians, and conservationists alike consider of great historical and scientific value.
Since 1906, when Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Antiquities Act, U.S. presidents have had the authority to protect “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest” from excavation and destruction by branding them national monuments. Roosevelt embraced the law and designated 18 sites during his presidency. A total of 16 presidents, both Republican and Democratic, have created more than 150 monuments that safeguard nearly 850 million acres of America’s cultural and natural landscapes. These monuments honor some of the nation’s most iconic places, such as the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty.
Trump is one of the first presidents to break with this tradition. His executive order calls for his Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to reevalute all monuments established after 1996 that cover more than 100,000 acres. He will determine whether they were “appropriately classified under the [Antiquities] Act” and whether their designation had received sufficient local input. “A lack of public outreach,” as the order notes, “create[s] barriers to achieving energy independence, restrict[s] public access to and use of Federal lands, … and otherwise curtail[s] economic growth.”
In his initial assessment, Zinke scrutinized 22 national monuments, nearly all in the American West. The details of
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