Department of the Interior “Reviews” the National Monuments

Updated Information (December 8, 2017):

On December 5, the president announced plans to overwhelmingly reduce the protections and boundaries of two National Monuments in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Openlands adamantly opposes any effort to curtail protections for conserved federal lands, and we see this as a legal precedent to undo protections for conservation across the nation.

National Monuments protect ecologically unique areas, they enshrine our national history, and they preserve the heritage and culture of indigenous nations. Though no monuments are being rescinded, significant reductions represent a failure to consider these objectives.

Proponents of these reductions have lauded the action as a chance to transfer land to the State of Utah. Historically, when the Federal Government transfers lands to the states, 70% have been sold off resulting in deforestation, mining and pollution, and privatization. We unequivocally believe public lands ought to remain public.

But this issue is more than just an assault on the democratic rights instilled in public lands: the designation of these monuments was the result of decades of advocacy by native nations to protect their ancestral homes from development and to honor the health of these lands. This is an affront not just to those groups, but to all indigenous peoples who have looked to correct centuries of historical injustices by permanently protecting land through conservation – and that work extends to our home in the Midwest.

Openlands recognizes that the land we work to protect is land taken from the indigenous nations that lived here before us. Today we work to restore the land to health, to respect the land and the water, and to share these places with all people.

It is only right that we stand in solidarity with all people working towards this goal. Our neighbors in the West supported us when we sought federal protections for landscapes in Illinois, so we are calling on our state’s elected leadership to show them the same support.


On May 5, the US Department of the Interior announced their list of National Monuments that will be “reviewed” by the Secretary of the Interior and potentially reversed as directed in an April 26 Federal Executive Order. A National Monument designation permanently protects America’s finest landscapes and cultural areas for all to enjoy, and Openlands adamantly opposes any effort to curtail protections for conserved Federal lands.

The original Executive Order instructed the Secretary of the Interior to review only those National Monuments greater than 100,000 acres in size and designated since 1996. Particularly troubling to Openlands was the specific inclusion on Interior’s list of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine, which is smaller than 100,000 acres. Unlike the other monuments under review, which were designated through the Antiquities Act on existing federal lands, Katahdin was created through a private land donation of 87,000 acres with the express understanding that the land would be protected in perpetuity by the National Park Service as a National Monument.

Openlands is a non-profit land trust, and private land donations are the types of conservation partnerships we often facilitate. We work with private landowners to acquire lands with high conservation potential, and we hold them in trust until a government agency can acquire and permanently protect the lands as a state park, as a National Wildlife Refuge, or as a National Tallgrass Prairie.

Were Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument’s status to be reversed, it would set a dangerous precedent for all other federally protected land across the nation that began with a donation from a land trust or other private landowner. We see this as a legal precedent to undo protections for all conserved federal lands, especially lands donated to the Federal Government for conservation.


On August 24, the US Department of the Interior announced their recommendations to reduce protections for an unspecified number of national monuments. The Secretary of the Interior disclosed that he is recommending changes to a “handful” of monuments, but has not publicly shared any site-specific information.

Our public lands need you to speak up now more than ever. Tell your senators and congressperson to protect our monuments.

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