Western congressmen seek reduction in size of national monuments

Two weeks ago the 17 members of the Congressional Western Caucus — which includes Nevada’s Rep. Mark Amodei — took Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke up on his request for feedback on what to do about all the national monuments created in the past two decades, sending him a letter with specific recommendations about 27 of those monuments.

These recommendations called for vastly scaling back the size of two monuments created by President Obama in his last year in office at the urging of then Sen. Harry Reid — the 300,000-acre Gold Butte in Clark County and the 700,000-acre Basin and Range in Nye and Lincoln counties.

The letter repeatedly points out that the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to create monuments, was passed in order to protect prehistoric and Indian ruins and artifacts on federal land in the West and the law limits such designations to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.” While earlier monuments averaged 422 acres, several of Obama’s designations exceeded a million acres, the letter notes.

Zinke’s review of the monuments comes at the behest of President Trump, who in April asked for the review in an executive order, giving Zinke till Aug. 26 to comply.

As for Basin and Range, the congressmen point out it is larger than Rhode Island and was created as “a personal favor to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. According to a former Obama adviser, ‘it is only due to Harry Reid that [Basin and Range] is getting done.'”

The letter quotes opposition to the monument from the Nevada Farm Bureau, as well as Lincoln and Nye County commissioners.

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman called the monument “an excellent example of hypocrisy,” noting that Reid insisted on local consent for the construction of a nuclear waste repository in Nye County at Yucca Mountain, which many in Nye favor, while ignoring the lack of local consent for Basin and Range, which many opposed because of its impact on recreation, grazing and mineral exploration.

The letter also points out that one of the motives for creating Basin and Range was to provide a buffer for an “art” project on a strip of private land, which has nothing to do with protecting antiquities.

A view of “City,” artist Michael Heizer’s monumental work of land art in the Nevada desert. (Tom Vinetz / Triple Aught Foundation / LACMA via LA Times)

According to a Washington Post article in 2015, Reid, who for two years could not get Congress to go along with his proposal to put the land off limits, asked Obama to create a national monument partly as a buffer for a giant earthen and concrete art project called “city” and described as “reminiscent of a ceremonial Mesoamerican city stretching across an expanse of desert nearly the size of the Mall” in Washington. The “artist” has been working on it for 50 years and allows only VIP visitors and journalists to view his work.

“Explain it to me,” the paper quoted Reid quoting Obama.

“I can’t,” Reid said he replied.

Though both Amodei and then-Rep. Cresent Hardy, in whose districts the monument is located, opposed it, Reid persuaded Obama, who owed him a favor or two for such things as ObamaCare and ending the filibuster for judicial nominations.

The WaPo story ends thusly:

“This was on nobody’s radar screen, and it certainly wasn’t part of the plan,” said one person close to the president who has been involved in the discussions. When the question of possible controversy was broached, Obama said: “I don’t care. I want this done.”

Reid visited (Michael) Heizer’s art installation and its remote environs in 2007. He said he went “to check off a box.” But the visit changed him. “I became a convert. … You have this magnificent work of art that this man spent half a century working on. And that’s quite a story.”

The caucus letter recommends the monument be reduced to about 2,500 acres — “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

As for Gold Butte, the letter notes the designation specifically bans grazing and suggests it was “political retribution” against the Bundy family, whose cattle have grazed in the area for more than a century. Cliven Bundy and four of his sons are currently in jail awaiting trial on charges growing out of an armed standoff in 2014 when BLM agents attempted to confiscate their cattle.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said the monument designation bypassed Congress and the public.

In January, Amodei and Sen. Dean Heller introduced the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act, which intends to prevent the threat of executive action designating or expanding national monuments without Congressional approval or local support.

“Whether you agree with our proposals or not, I have always supported a public and transparent process which includes input from interest groups, local communities, and elected representatives,”Amodei said at the time. “Unlike all of our Nevada lands bills that allow stakeholders an opportunity to voice their concerns and ultimately reach a consensus agreement that achieves bipartisan support, the Obama Administration has repeatedly bypassed Congress and local input.”

Heller said, “Late last month, without even having a say in the matter, Nevadans witnessed the executive branch quickly lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of local, public land with an effortless stroke of the pen. No matter which political party is occupying the White House, these types of unilateral federal land grabs by the executive branch should not be allowed.”

The caucus letter quotes former Rep. Hardy as stating: “If you want to protect the petroglyphs, and you want to designate that as the monument, that’s what the Antiquities Act was set up to do, is protect the minimum possible footprint of that of what you’re trying to designate. Not an extra 300,000 acres on top of the 50-100 acres that you could have protected.”

The letter itself did not state any specific size for Basin and Range.

In concluding remarks, the congressmen argue: “The Antiquities Act of 1906 is broken and in desperate need of reform. No one person should be able to unilaterally lock-up millions of acres of public land from multiple-use with the stroke of a pen. Local stakeholders deserve to have a voice on public land-use decisions that impact their livelihoods.”

BLM pix

13 comments on “Western congressmen seek reduction in size of national monuments

  1. deleted says:

    It always gets a little muddled when these sort of articles get written but this is all about land belonging to the federal government; I.e. “We the people”. None of the land under discussion is land that belongs either to any private individual or any state. To be clear.

    So like any owner, or any land, it’s (mostly) up to thems that own the land that gets to decide what to do with the land. Property rights and all don’t you know.

    And, again although it tends to fly below the radar in these sort of articles, even though presidents have for year designated national monuments on land that is owned by we the people, it’s not as if we the people (especially some really wealthy ranchers) are locked out of these areas. Heck ranching interests ALWAYS get theirs protected (sort of ironic that the richest, who always whine the loudest, get theirs isn’t it? And at the same time, they are the ones whose interest is always bemoaned as if their getting locked out)

    Both of the monuments established by President Obama that seemed to cause such consternation among the ranchers; I.e. The a Great Basin and Bears Ears provide expressly for grazing rights within the monuments to continue (along with off road vehicle use, camping, and other uses) but you’d hardly know that from the ridiculous goofy letters that these congressmen wrote so as to make their wealthy rancher clients…er ah “constituents” happy.

    Here’s a good couple of links about 17 monuments that have been designated since Clinton was in office all laid out very clearly showing the permitted uses of the land within the monuments. Grazing is among the interests protected by each designation don’t you know?

    Click to access NatlMon_Permitted_Uses.pdf

    Oh, and here’s the fact sheet links for the Bears Ears Monument, which also allows for Grazing.


    And folks remember, maybe most importantly, this land is your land, this land is my land, but our land was never intended to be dominated by a single group of wealthy guys that ultimately want to keep you off THEIR land.

  2. Communal ownership.

  3. deleted says:

    As God intended.

    “GENESIS 1:26,28 NKJ 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

    *Note the use of the word “them” here.

    For some reason he didn’t mention the Koch Brothers by name; possibly an oversight though.

  4. “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”

    ― William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

  5. deleted says:

    God>everyone (including Shakespeare)

  6. Rincon says:

    One small clarification is needed:

    “The vast majority of Obama’s addition to the nation’s protected acreage, however, is water…” http://www.businessinsider.com/every-piece-of-land-obama-has-protected-2016-12

    Yes, Obama designated an awful lot of land as well, but lumping it with water strikes me as being just a tad disingenuous. It certainly gives an incorrect impression.

  7. deleted says:

    Sure Rincon but what about the poor ranchers?

  8. He who has no name…quoting scripture in defense of the Feds walling off huge portions of American land, Lord have mercy. It’s kind of hard to be fruitful and multiply, to have dominion and subdue (use) it when the Feds control access and everything else on these huge swaths of land.

  9. deleted says:


    330 million of “them” ain’t enough for you?

    “We the people” love our land. Which is why, in case you wondered HFB, why the billionaires (and a few multi-hundred millionaires) are having such a hard time turning “our” land, into their land. In defiance of The Lord.

  10. Steve says:

    Patrick setting himself up as spokesman for 330,000,000 people is absurd on its face and would be hilarious if it wasn’t clear Patrick actually believes the diarrhea spewing off his fingertips as he types the blather we get to laugh at daily.

  11. deleted says:


    Any comment about the local expression of interest regarding what the Feds ought to do with the federal land designated as monuments?

    “According to an analysis conducted by the center, more than 98 percent of the roughly 1.4 million public comments submitted as part of the administration’s review came from people who favor keeping the monuments as they are. “So it should be an easy call for Secretary Zinke,” Prentice-Dunn said.”

    Sounds like the locals like it the way it is right?


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