Donald Trump Isn’t the First President to Shrink a National Monument
President Donald Trump may like his golf courses and his mansions big. But he doesn’t feel the same way about national monuments. Trump reduced the size of two monuments in Utah by about 2 million acres, shrinking Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante by half.
NPR reports that depending on your politics, Trump’s announcement “is either about an overreaching federal government that prevented development on large amounts of federal land with little local support or it’s the latest example of the U.S. government breaking promises with Native Americans and eroding environmental protections.” Some people have characterized Trump’s move as “unprecedented.” The law is ambiguous as to whether a president can abolish or shrink an already-established national monument.
But National Park Service data shows that numerous U.S. presidents have reduced the size of monuments. Read on to learn about the other presidents who have chosen to decrease, instead of increase, the amount of land under federal protection.
1. William Howard Taft reduced the Petrified Forest by 40%
President William Howard Taft was the first U.S. president to modify the boundaries of a national monument established by another president. In 1911, Taft reduced the size of the Petrified Forest National Monument by 25,625 acres, or about 40% of the monument’s 60,000 acres.
A newspaper article at the time reported that Taft made the decision on the recommendation of George P. Merrill, head curator in the Department of Geology at the United States National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution.) Merrill examined the land for the Interior Department, and said that outside of the new boundaries, he found practically nothing “worth preserving.”
Next: This president reduced the size of a national monument, on lands containing pueblo ruins, by almost 90%.
2. Taft also cut the Navajo National Monument by almost 90%
In 1912, Taft also reduced the size of the Navajo National Monument by 320 acres. That doesn’t sound like a lot — at least until you learn that the national monument — where ancestral Puebloans built Tsegi Phase villages — comprised only 360 acres to begin with. In fact, Taft reduced the monument by 90% just three years after he established it.
The reason why? As Taft’s proclamation explained, experts explored the pueblo ruins that the monument was intended to protect. They found that the original boundaries encompassed “a much larger tract of land than is necessary for the protection of such of the ruins as should be reserved.”
Next: This president halved a national monument in the state of Washington.
3. Woodrow Wilson cut Mount Olympus National Monument in half
In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson cut the size of the Mount Olympus National Monument by more than 313,000 acres. The Atlantic reports that President Theodore Roosevelt established this national monument in 1909. In the next two decades, it received two small cuts because the original designation had accidentally included some private homesteads.
But during World War I, President Wilson halved the national monument, citing the country’s need for lumber. Wilson’s action was never challenged in court. And in 1929, President Calvin Coolidge cut another 640 acres. But in 1938, Congress converted the monument into Olympic National Park, and empowered President Franklin D. Roosevelt to restore it to near its original size.
Next: This president changed the borders of a New Mexico monument containing rare white gypsum sand dunes.
4. Franklin D. Roosevelt reduced the size of White Sands National Monument
In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reduced the size of the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The National Park Service reports that the dunes, which have existed for 7,000 to 10,000 years, were declared a national monument by President Herbert Hoover. President Roosevelt’s New Deal provided funding for the construction of a visitor center to serve the thousands of people who visited each year.
But in 1942, Roosevelt also signed an executive order to create the 1,243,000-acre Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, which enabled soldiers to practice tank maneuvers inside the boundaries of the national monument. By 1945, the military began testing missiles and asking for park closures. The same year, it tested an atomic bomb just 60 miles north of the national monument. Today, the military still operates around the park boundaries.
Next: This president downsized the national monument for the Grand Canyon.
5. Roosevelt then downsized the Grand Canyon National Monument
In 1940, Roosevelt reduced the size of the Grand Canyon National Monument — which Herbert Hoover had established in 1932 — by 71,854 acres. Slate cites the incident as proof that Trump’s move to decrease Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, while unusual, isn’t completely unprecedented.
Roosevelt reduced the size of the Grand Canyon in an effort to appease ranchers. But subsequently, Congress acted to make the Grand Canyon National Monument a national park instead. The difference? The federal government protects national parks for their scenic, inspirational, educational, or recreational value, rather than for their historical, cultural, or scientific interest.
Next: This president downsized national monuments in both Idaho and Arizona.
6. Roosevelt also cut Craters of the Moon and Wupatki National Monument
Though many presidents have opted to redraw the boundaries of national monuments established by their predecessors, the legal rights of presidents to make those changes has never been clarified explicitly. (That’s why you’ve likely heard talk of court challenges to Donald Trump’s changes to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase.) But Roosevelt didn’t let the ambiguity of the law stop him from making changes where he thought them necessary.
In 1941, Roosevelt also reduced the size of the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. He did so to transfer a strip of highway to the state of Idaho, in order to enable the improvement of the road system in the region. Roosevelt also cut 52 acres from the Wupatki National Monument in Arizona for the “construction and operation of a diversion dam in Little Colorado River to facilitate the irrigation of lands on the Navajo Indian Reservation.”
Next: This president cut a Florida monument in half.
7. Harry S. Truman halved the Santa Rosa Island National Monument
In 1945, President Harry S. Truman cut the Santa Rosa Island National Monument by about half, reducing the 9,500-acre national monument by 4,700 acres. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the national monument in 1939, but Truman wrote in his proclamation on the change that “certain Government-owned lands now comprising a part of the Santa Rosa Island National Monument, in the State of Florida, are needed by the War Department for military purposes.”
The Santa Rosa Island Range Complex was established during World War II as part of the Eglin Air Force Base. On the island, the Air Force tested the Republic-Ford JB-2, the United States’ first operational guided missile. These sites have since been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Next: This president reduced an Alaska monument by thousands of acres.
8. Dwight D. Eisenhower reduced the size of Glacier Bay by almost 25,000 acres
In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower reduced the size of the Glacier Bay National Monument in Alaska by almost 25,000 acres. As Deseret News reports, “Glacier Bay National Monument was designated in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge, expanded in 1939 and then reduced in size in 1955 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who altered the boundaries by roughly 20,000 acres.”
Eisenhower’s decision excluded the homesteader community of Gustavus from the boundaries of the national monument, and transferred some land to the Tongass National Forest. As Eisenhower wrote at the time, other parts of the land were also “being used as an airfield for national-defense purposes.” So he characterized them as “no longer suitable for national-monument purposes.”
Next: This president adjusted the boundaries of a monument containing mysterious Anasazi ruins.
9. Eisenhower also reduced Hovenweep National Monument
In 1956, Eisenhower reduced the size of Hovenweep in Utah by 40 acres. How Stuff Works reports that at this location, now on the Colorado-Utah border, the Anasazi tribe built multistory towers that rise from the rocks. The Hovenweep National Monument, proclaimed in 1923, contains the ruins of six clusters of such towers. The purpose of the towers remains unclear, though the tribe may have used them for food storage, defense, or ceremonies.
Additionally, much about the Anasazi remains unknown, a civilization that arose as early as 1500 B.C. As Smithsonian Magazine explains, archaeologists know that “some cataclysmic event” forced the Anasazi to flee their cliffside settlements. Their best guess? The event involved violence, warfare, and even cannibalism. Eisenhower revised the borders of the national monument in order to exclude areas “which contain no objects of historic or scientific interest” and to include lands that “contain ruin groups worthy of preservation because of their historic and scientific value.”
Next: This president decreased the size of the monument where you can see the tallest sand dunes in North America.
10. Next, Eisenhower shrank Great Sand Dunes by 10,000 acres
As you’re likely beginning to guess, Donald Trump isn’t the only modern president who felt unafraid to revise the boundaries of more than one national monument. The same year that he adjusted the boundaries of Hovenweep, Eisenhower diminished Great Sand Dunes — now a national park where you can see the tallest sand dunes in North America — by almost 10,000 acres.
As Eisenhower wrote, in 1956, the Great Sand Dunes National Monument dates to 1932. But Eisenhower felt that the “retention of certain lands within the monument is no longer necessary” for “the preservation of the great sand dunes and additional features of scenic, scientific, and educational interests.”
Next: This president diminished the size of monuments in Utah and Colorado.
11. Eisenhower went on to diminish the size of Arches and Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Eisenhower wasn’t finished yet. In 1960, Eisenhower diminished the size of the Arches National Monument in Utah by 720 acres. The National Park Service reports that President Herbert Hoover created Arches National Monument for its “gigantic arches, natural bridges, windows, spires, balanced rocks, and other unique wind-worn sandstone formations, the preservation of which is desirable because of their educational and scenic value.” Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded the national monument a decade later. Eisenhower reduced the monument, and Lyndon B. Johnson later expanded it.
Also in 1960, Eisenhower diminished the size of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument by 470 acres. He wrote that some of the lands included in the monument were “no longer required for the proper care, protection, and management of the objects of scientific interest situated on lands within the monument, and it would be in the public interest to exclude such lands from the monument.”
Next: This president reduced the size of a monument with prehistoric ruins.
12. John F. Kennedy cut Natural Bridges National Monument
John F. Kennedy is the most recent president, before Donald Trump, to reduce the size of a national monument. He decreased the size of Utah’s Natural Bridges by 320 acres. The good news? At the same time, he added a separate 5,236 acres to the monument. This national monument dates to 1909. In 1962, Kennedy wrote that the Natural Bridges National Monument should include the sites of “additional cliff-type prehistoric Indian ruins and suitable space for construction of a visitor center, administrative offices, employee residences, utility and maintenance facilities, and a new entrance road.”
At the same time, he decided to “exclude from the monument approximately three hundred and twenty acres of land, known as Snow Flat Spring Cave and Cigarette Spring Cave, which no longer contain features of archeological value and are not needed for the proper care, management, protection, interpretation, and preservation of the monument.”
Next: This president downsized a monument in New Mexico.
13. Kennedy also reduced the size of the Bandelier National Monument
In 1963, Kennedy reduced the size of Bandelier, a national monument in New Mexico. Kennedy enlarged the monument by 2,882 acres. But he subtracted 3,925 acres from its boundaries. The land that Kennedy added to Bandelier featured “unusual scenic character together with geologic and topographic features.” It had been used by the Atomic Energy Commission, an agency that would be dissolved in 1975, but was no longer needed by the agency.
Conversely, Kennedy removed from the national monument “3,925 acres of land containing limited archeological values which have been fully researched and are not needed to complete the interpretive story of the Bandelier National Monument.”
Next: This is the controversial monument that Donald Trump wants to shrink.
14. Donald Trump wants to shrink Bears Ears, the most controversial national monument that Barack Obama created
The Atlantic reports that though Bears Ears wasn’t the only national monument that Barack Obama established, nor the largest, it remains the most controversial. Republican leaders in Utah wanted to protect the land, but without the stringent requirements that come along with national monument status. They decried Obama’s move as an abuse of federal power, even though he acted under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Conversely, Native leaders responded “in jubilation” to Obama’s move to protect land held sacred by the Navajo, the Hopi, the Ute, and the Zuni.
Before reducing the size of Bears Ears, Trump said called Obama’s creation of national monuments an “egregious abuse of executive power.” Trump’s biggest qualm seemed to be the size of the federally protected land, even though the Supreme Court has affirmed that there’s no size restriction on national monuments.
Next: Here’s what Donald Trump hasn’t acknowledged about Bears Ears.
15. Bears Ears isn’t the only large national monument
The Atlantic explains that even though it seems to be the size of Bears Ears that makes it so controversial, national monuments that are similarly large in size aren’t exactly unprecedented. “Woodrow Wilson established Katmai National Monument at 1.1 million acres only 12 years after the Antiquities Act was passed,” the publication explains. “Seven years later, President Calvin Coolidge created Glacier Bay National Monument at 1.4 million acres. And, more recently, President Carter designated Wrangell-St. Elias National Monument at 11 million acres in 1978.”
Even more recently, President George W. Bush established several expansive oceanic national monuments. “Though they are mostly on the seafloor, they are dozens of times as large as Bears Ears. Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, for instance, protects 89.5 million acres northwest of Hawaii.”
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