By Dylan R.N. Crabb
This week, the governing body for Mohave County, Arizona, advocated via a letter in the Daily Miner for the United States Department of Interior to rescind two national monuments in the state. The letter, addressed to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, argues that the designations of the Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermillion Cliffs national monuments were unconstitutional because of a lack of consent from Arizona residents. Mohave County’s Board of Supervisors also contend that the national monuments inhibit economic development; two County Supervisors would like to open up the Grand Canyon to uranium mining, which they claim would add $28 billion to the local economy. Although, the Antiquities Act of 1906 gives either the national congress or the president power to designate “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest (<http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Learn-About-TR/TR-Encyclopedia/Conservation/The-Antiquities-Act-of-1906.aspx>, accessed on 6/8/2017), this dispute between a regional government and the national government is just one of many disputes in the history of American federalism. The broader question stemming from this dispute between Mohave County and the US Interior Department is how public land can be administered and protected more efficiently, under the national government or state(s) government? While the state governments can be influenced by their respective citizens more effectively simply because they represent a smaller and more manageable bureaucracy, the national government oversees a larger pool of taxpayers and therefore has more resources at its disposal.
Although, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors claim in their letter to Interior Secretary Zink that the national monuments designations have failed in their intent to protect the land for future generations, that is exactly what Antiquities Act designations are designed to do. The County Supervisors also reveal in their letter that they want to expand their economy with energy sector developments in fossil fuels, which is exactly what supporters of public land like The Wilderness Society hope to avoid with Antiquities Act designations. As I write, there is a bill (US Senate Bill S.467) in the United States Senate (sponsored by Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona) with the goal of selecting pieces of “eligible land” currently held by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and selling them to bidders. Although, Senate Bill S.467 states that a selling off of the eligible land must comply with local zoning laws as well as a “master plan” from the county’s Board of Supervisors, my question for the County Supervisors is who will be bidding for the BLM land?
The Antiquities Act was signed into American law back in 1906 by then-President Theodore Roosevelt who then designated four national monuments among the western states in the remaining months of that year. Americans today are able to enjoy pristine and scenic views in the west (for many of us, it is right in our own backyard) because of the efforts of conservationists like our twenty-sixth president. Efforts to downsize national government programs need to be met with criticism from the public for which public lands were created. In the event of the state of Arizona taking control of what is currently land managed by the US Interior Department, would the state be able to administer the public land in a similar manner while protecting it for the public? If public land is sold to private bidders, how exactly will the private organization taking on ownership be compelled to protect the land for the public?