Just before the new year, President Obama designated two more national monuments—Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada—extending an impressive track record for protecting the country’s cultural and environmental heritage. The Obama administration has so far preserved or expanded protections for some 553 million acres—more than any other president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Bears Ears will go down in history as the first such national site to receive management oversight from an inter-tribal commission. Members from Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Pueblo of Zuni communities will advise on how the state handles the 1.35-million-acre monument’s many important cultural sites, including petroglyphs and ancient Pueblo structures. At the same time, many of Utah’s elected officials are objecting to the designation. One U.S. Representative—Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz—already has plans to petition Donald Trump to abolish the designation once he takes over the presidency.
Designation of Nevada’s Gold Butte National Monument will protect 300,000 acres of ecologically significant land near Las Vegas. Gold Butte also contains culturally and scientifically valuable archeological and fossil sites.
Obama protected these sites using the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives presidents the power to create national monuments without congressional input or approval. But House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, a Republican representative from Utah, has already met with the Trump transition team to discuss ways to overturn the national monument designations.