In April, President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review more than two dozen national monuments, arguing that the designation of sites under previous administrations had gotten out of hand. Months later, Zinke’s recommendations, detailed in a leaked memo delivered to the White House, have sparked concern among local officials and environmental groups, prompting some to describe the proposals as “unprecedented.”
Zinke recommended changes to 10 national monuments, including Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante and Nevada’s Gold Butte. His proposals range from lifting restrictions on activities like commercial fishing to shrinking the parameters of at least four of the sites.
The contents of the report were made public a week shy of the 111th anniversary of America’s very first national monument designation. On September 24, 1906, Theodore Roosevelt deemed an area known as Devils Tower, Wyoming, worthy of preservation under the Antiquities Act. That act, passed the same year, gives presidents the power to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.”
Devils Tower—a tan-colored monster of a rock, looming 1,267 feet above another thousand acres of open land—was just one of the 18 national monuments Roosevelt established during his presidency. Today, the country boasts more than 150 in total, from Governors Island in New York to Death Valley in California. Only three presidents since Roosevelt—Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush—opted not to designate any during their terms. Never before, though, has a president attempted to scale down monuments to the extent that Zinke proposes.
Throughout history, a few monuments have become the source of political conflict. In 1915, for example, Woodrow Wilson cut down the boundaries of Roosevelt’s designation of Mount Olympus National Monument, much to environmentalists’ dismay. This past April, Trump called former President Barack Obama’s designation of Bears Ears National Monument, an area of more than 1.3 million acres in Utah, an “egregious abuse of power.”