President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order Wednesday that could threaten the status of the Hanford Reach National Monument.
Administration officials have said he will direct the Department of Interior to review all national monuments created for the past 21 years, which would include the national monument near the Tri-Cities. It was designated by former President Bill Clinton in 2000, his final year in office.
The review could lead to reducing the size of national monuments or removing national monument designations, said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
She criticized the anticipated attempt to roll back national monument status for public lands during a speech on the floor of the Senate Tuesday morning.
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Republicans have criticized the most recent national monument designation, another case of a president signing a declaration as he leaves office. Trump’s anticipated order is prompted in part by former President Barack Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah in December.
Obama used his power under the Antiquities Act to permanently preserve more land and water using national monument designations than any other president. The land is generally off limits to timber harvesting, mining and pipelines, and commercial development.
Utah Republicans have protested making Bears Ears a national monument, with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, calling the designation of Bears Ears and the 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah part of “massive federal land grabs” and an “egregious abuse of the Antiquities Act to serve far-left special interests.”
Time and time again, the Trump administration is pushing for policies that are harmful to our recreation economy, a disaster for our pristine places and setting a terrible precedent for future conservation efforts.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
Cantwell said the expected Trump order is a pretext to attack the designation of Bears Ears, which covers more than 1 million acres of land that is sacred to Native Americans and is home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.
But the impending order also threatens other national monument designations, including the San Juan Island and the Hanford Reach national monuments in Washington state, she said.
“Time and time again, the Trump administration is pushing for policies that are harmful to our recreation economy, a disaster for our pristine places and setting a terrible precedent for future conservation efforts,” she said.
In Washington state, the outdoor recreation economy generated $22.5 billion in consumer spending and $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue. Nationwide the industry is responsible for 7.6 million jobs in the United States, an increase of 1.5 million jobs in the last few years, Cantwell said, citing information released Tuesday by the Outdoor Industry Association.
Since the Antiquities Act was signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, eight Democrat presidents and eight Republic presidents have designated 140 national monuments, Cantwell said. Nearly half of all national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Olympic National Park, were initially protected as national monuments.
Cantwell called the possible rollback of national monument designations illegal. The National Parks Conservation Association, after retaining a law firm to study the issue, agrees that the president has no power to abolish a national monument.
These lands are among America’s treasures, and we owe it to future generations to preserve them.
Then Vice President Al Gore, speaking in 2000
The designation of the Hanford Reach National Monument in 2000 was announced by Vice President Al Gore during a visit to Richland.
“These lands are among America’s treasures, and we owe it to future generations to preserve them,” he said.
The local national monument includes 195,000 acres that nearly surround central Hanford. Much of the land was once a security zone around the Hanford nuclear reservation that had remained largely undisturbed since 1943.
There was Tri-City-area criticism in 2000, including by the chairman and chairwomen of the Benton, Franklin and Grant county commissions. They said there was no imminent threat to the Hanford Reach and that local interests should be involved in decisions about the land’s management.
The Columbia River remains the biggest draw of the monument, with boats thick on the water from Vernita to the White Bluffs during fishing season. Parts of the monument have been open for hunting deer, upland birds such as pheasants and quail, and waterfowl including ducks, coots and geese.
A substantial portion of the monument, including Rattlesnake Mountain, remains closed to the public.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.