- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Donald Trump is taking aim at some of Barack Obama’s national monuments — most notably the ridiculously large Bears Ears 1.3 million acre set-aside signed into being in Utah last December — as well as at designations made by other presidents during other administrations.

And this is great news. Terrific news. When it comes to the country’s national monuments, this White House’s attitude should be one of slash and burn — not conserve and preserve.

Let’s be real here. Obama’s 12th-hour Bears Ears National Monument declaration was not about protecting land, saving properties from future destruction, preserving our country’s historical records or artifacts.

It was about sticking it to the Constitution, that little piece of paper Obama used mostly for Kleenex. And it was about thumbing his nose at the states — mostly Republican states — that had previously maintained control of some of these public properties (which is just another way of sticking it to the Constitution, the 10th Amendment).

Believe it or not — and truly, most people these days fall into the latter category of “not,” primarily because that’s where political conditioning has led — the Constitution really does address private property rights and really does provide protections for land- and business-owners. One such protection can be found in the Fifth Amendment, the section that reads: “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

That means the government can’t simply grab private property or affix so many regulatory restrictions on the property that it becomes virtually useless — that it becomes the subject of a regulatory taking.

Courts, and the Antiquities Act of 1906, have since eroded the concept of the Fifth Amendment, however. The Antiquities Act was established by Congress as a means of protecting those public properties seen as historically, culturally and scientifically significant to America — properties like the Grand Canyon, for instance. And it was established primarily as a means of stopping the widespread acts of vandalism that destroyed or degraded several of the countries’ notable properties. The logic? That the federal government, better than the states or even private sectors, could manage and oversee these lands.

In other words: The Antiquities Act was never supposed to be a means of controlling the population, of scoring political points, of rewarding special rights, of catering to radical interests or of advancing progressive-socialist ideals.

But that’s what it’s become.

That’s what Obama’s lame-duck and Republican-opposed naming of 1.35 million acres as federally protected and managed Bears Ears land was. That’s what Bill Clinton’s 1996 Republican-opposed naming of 1.9 million acres of Grand Staircase-Escalante land as a national monument in southern Utah was. And there are scores more that could be listed — scores more by presidents from both political parties that came in the face of widespread opposition from political officials, gaming groups, hunters, recreational vehicle clubs, fishers, miners and business- and private property groups.

But the main point is this: The declaration of national monuments by our nation’s presidents has gotten way out of control. And the fact that Trump’s willing to take a look at some of these properties and give them a second look to see if hey, maybe they can be scaled back a bit, or even outright removed from the federal program, is a very happy day for those who’ve watched the growth of the federal land management hand with alarm.

Specifically, Trump’s issued an executive order for dozens of national monuments declared over the past 20 or so years to be reviewed. Among: Bears Ears and Grande-Escalante.

Happily, the review may also include recommendations for Congress to reform the Antiquities Act and make it a bit tougher for a president, unilaterally, to restrict human use on such massive swaths of land.

As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said: “[This order will restore] the trust between local communities and Washington.”

Quite right — so long as the review leads to real action. And when the environmental and conservation groups sue? Let ‘em.

They’re already crying about the fact the Antiquities Act doesn’t allow for properties to be removed from federally protected status — only added. Well, here’s a thought on that: Who makes the rules?

Right. The same people who created the rules that allowed the properties to be protected in the first place. Saying the rule makers can’t change the rules they made — by doing their rule-making jobs — is ridiculous. It’s just a ploy to halt the fight before it even begins. Besides, we’re not talking about turning over the federally managed lands to housing developers. We’re talking about coming up with options that reel in the heavy fed presence — options that could include turning the properties to the states to manage, dwindling the boundaries to more manageable levels, putting some land in the control of public-private sectors, etc. 

What’s wrong with that?

So to repeat, let the leftists sue. This administration is pretty handy on the ‘ol court circuit. And this time, it looks like Republicans in Congress and at the state level are on the same policy track as Trump — the one that says with the Antiquities Act, maybe less is more.

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