Why Obama's Latest National Monuments Are Controversial


On Tuesday, President Obama designated two sites in Utah and Nevada as national moments, but they come with controversy. There will now be the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada and Bear Ears National Monument in Utah. While designating national monuments are not considered high on the list of controversial actions a president can take, both of these moves are likely to anger critics of Obama, who claim he has exploited his executive powers to make federal land grabs.

The Gold Butte National monument, which covers roughly 300,000 acres, is an area that has been a source of contention between the federal government and the Bundy family. According to the Washington Post, the Bundys, who have had standoffs with the government, including one earlier this year at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, refused to recognize federal authority over the Gold Butte area. Democratic Nevada Sen. Harry Reid has pushed for the region to be designated a national monument.

The Bear Ears National Monument covers around 1.35 million acres which include multiple Pueblo ancestral sites, some 3,500 years old. The designation will also mark the first time that, as the Washington Post reported, "Native American tribes will co-manage a national monument with the federal government."

The Bear Ears National Monument has already spurred criticism from some Utah politicians. Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz slammed the decision, saying in a statement, “The midnight monument is a slap in the face to the people of Utah, attempting to silence the voices of those who will bear the heavy burden it imposes.” Chaffetz had been working Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the house National Resources Committee and also a Republican representative from Utah, on a plan that would make parts of the Big Area protected but allow some of it be used for land development.

In a statement released Tuesday, Obama said the national monument designations will “protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archaeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes," as well as "help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes.”