There is talk recently confirmed Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will soon visit Utah, an important first step in addressing what have become contentious issues of public lands management in our state. Mr. Zinke is a Westerner and a sportsman who appreciates high-quality fish and wildlife habitat and premium hunting and angling opportunities, and I doubt he’ll have any difficulty seeing the value of the national public lands and unique landscapes of Utah. He knows these places should not be sold or transferred, and like Theodore Roosevelt, I believe he understands we must turn them over to the next generation “increased, and not impaired in value.”
Public lands belong in public hands, and the protected landscapes where we hunt, fish and camp deserve to remain part of our state — and national — heritage. But our public lands are threatened by a few who wish to do away with some public lands and revoke protections for others. In addition, Congress is considering legislation that would dismantle the Antiquities Act and weaken both the president and local community’s ability to protect public lands.
The Antiquities Act authorizes the president to protect landmarks, structures and objects of historic or scientific interest on America’s public lands by designating them as national monuments. Since being written by a Republican congressman from Iowa and signed into law by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents — eight Republican, eight Democratic — to protect 129 of America’s best historical, cultural and natural treasures across 30 states, many home to outstanding fish and wildlife habitat that offer sportsmen and women spectacular fishing and hunting opportunities.
Concerns about the Antiquities Act often arise from a misperception that a national monument “locks up” land and prohibits multiple-use activities or access. In fact, Bureau of Land Management national monuments allow oil and gas development on existing leases, and livestock grazing and other uses continue according to existing rights. In addition, management plans are created for new national monuments with extensive public input from stakeholders, including state and local governments, recreational users, tribes, local business owners and private landowners. Individuals do not automatically lose access to their favorite fishing hole or hunting grounds when national monuments are created. State fish and wildlife agencies retain management authority over fish and wildlife populations.
Trout Unlimited urges Mr. Zinke not to pursue a protracted legal battle to undo existing national monuments, sell public lands, or weaken the Antiquities Act. Most legal experts agree such attacks would be expensive, divisive, unlikely to succeed, and set a dangerous precedent. Instead, with Mr. Zinke at the helm of the Department of the Interior, we have a unique opportunity to craft strong management plans for newly created monuments to ensure responsible access for hunting, fishing, livestock grazing and other uses, and that a healthy balance is struck between conservation, recreation and other of development activities.
The designation of a monument is just the first step in determining how it will be managed — the last step is the management plan, and this is where Utahns can come together and craft a lasting solution. As Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert said last month, “This latest controversy about Utah's commitment to our public lands is one where rhetoric and posturing from both sides may have outpaced rational thought, productive discussion and civility. We cannot force simplistic solutions to these complex issues through ultimatums, boycotts and press releases.”
Utah is a wonderful place for sportsmen and women to live and visit, and I’m sure that after he leaves, Mr. Zinke will want to help keep it this way. We can do that by leaving behind divisiveness and working together to craft collaborative solutions for managing public lands.
Andy Rasmussen is the Utah cCoordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsman’s Conservation Project. He lives in Logan.