This appeared in the Lewiston Tribune:
When Congressman Mike Simpson could not get his Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness package through a gridlocked Congress, critics suggested they had a better idea.
Prevail upon then — President Barack Obama to declare the area a national monument — much as President Teddy Roosevelt had acted to preserve the Grand Canyon or President Franklin Roosevelt had proceeded to protect what eventually became Grand Teton National Park.
At the very least, discussing a national monument provided Simpson with some leverage. The Idaho Republican sought — and got — Obama’s promise to withhold a proclamation while he made one last effort to pass the bill he’d been working on for 15 years. With the help of Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, the measure wound up on Obama’s desk for signature two years ago.
Even then, there was talk that Simpson had given up too much. A national monument would have covered at least twice the 275,000 acres Simpson’s measure designated among the 238-square-mile Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, the 142-square-mile White Clouds Wilderness and the 183-square-mile Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness.
But any monument is subject to shifting regulations, revised management plans and court challenges. An act of Congress is the gold standard. Its provisions are final. You can literally take it to the bank.
Which, at the moment, has to sound pretty good, even to those who were disappointed with Simpson’s product. That’s because every declaration, dating back to President Bill Clinton’s 1996 declaration of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and continuing through Obama’s Bear Ears National Monument just as he was leaving the White House, is under siege.
President Donald Trump has ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to examine those monuments — with an apparent eye toward reduction or recision.
Nowhere in the Antiquities Act will you find authority for a presidential reversal. In fact, FDR’s attorney general concluded his boss could not take that step short of passing an act of Congress.
Congress reiterated that view when it passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.
There’s no groundswell of support behind Trump’s apparent drive to open more public lands to natural resource extraction. Quite the contrary. National monuments tend to become more treasured with each passing decade.
Until you get a final court decision, all of this is speculation. But at the very least, this president has invited future whipsawing about monument designations as the White House changes hands between Republicans and Democrats.
All of which could have created political uncertainty on a matter involving general consensus within the Gem State. Never was there any real doubt about Idahoans’ desire to preserve and protect the Boulder-White Clouds. It had been discussed as potential wilderness, even a national park, since the 1970s.
So give credit to those, including Simpson, Risch and Johnson, who spared Idaho from this battle. Trump’s decision to unleash war on Obama’s natural resource policies makes their choice look better all the time.