Skip to navigationSkip to content

These striking US national monuments are under threat thanks to Donald Trump

Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management
The 1.6 million-acre Mojave Trails National Monument in southern California.
By Leslie Josephs
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Late last month, president Donald Trump ordered a review of what he called “another egregious use of federal power”: past presidents’ protection of large swaths of land from development and industry.

Trump asked the Interior Secretary to review designations of national monuments larger than 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares), going back to 1996. US presidents have declared more than two dozen areas national monuments in the last 20 years, which range from Mojave Desert sand dunes and to coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean. With less than a month to go in office, former president Barack Obama declared Bears Ears in Utah a national monument, because it houses sacred Native American cultural sites. Oil company EOG Resources had approvals to drill in the area.

The designations were made under the 1906 Antiquities Act, signed by president Theodore Roosevelt primarily to prevent looting of Native American artifacts from lands considered sacred. It lets presidents create national monuments on federal land by proclamation. Trump wants to “give that power back to the states and the people,” instead of letting presidents “lock up millions of acres of land and water” from potential development.

It may not be simple to rescind national monument designations, however. National Geographic notes that the law doesn’t say whether a president can reverse a monument’s designation, though some designations of land have been downsized. Legal battles are likely if the Trump administration attempts to revoke their status.

Here is a look at some of the sites that will be under review during the next three months:

Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management
Home to towering saguaro cactus, the Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona was created in 2001.
Lisa Phillips
Established in 2014, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico features craggy peaks that reach heights of over 9,000 feet over the Chihuahuan Desert.
Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management
The 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah was created in 1996 and is famed for dinosaur excavations. It’s a hikers’ paradise that features colorful, climbing terraces and pink-and-red hued slot canyons.
Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management
The Vermilion Cliffs, pink-and-red hued bluffs and canyons, sit in the the Colorado Plateau, in northern Arizona. The area is home to California condors, but hiking isn’t for the faint of heart. It also includes deep sand, extreme weather, and is home to poisonous insects.
Bureau of Land Management
President Obama declared Gold Butte a national monument in late 2016, just before leaving office. The 300,000 acres in southeastern Nevada, about 80 miles from Las Vegas, features brightly-colored sandstone that has been used for rock art that’s generations old. The area is also home to big horn sheep, banded gila monsters, and desert tortoises.
Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management
Another of Obama’s last national monument designations, the vast, 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah is home to ancient cliff houses, rock art, and thousands of other cultural sites important to Native Americans. It is also one of the most controversial sites, as an energy company already had rights to drill on the land before it was designated a monument late last year.
Greg McFall/Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
Home to coral reefs, northwest of Hawaii, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is largest of the United States’ fully protected areas. It is home to some 7,000 marine species and 22 species of marine birds that breed and nest on these atolls.
Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management
Almost every spring the Carrizo Plains, a few hours north of Los Angeles, burst with color as wild flowers bloom in bright yellows, purple, and orange. If you were lucky to go this year, the plains were carpeted in a “super bloom,” thanks to strong rains on the heels of a years-long drought.
The 154,000 Sand to Snow National Monument has some of the most diverse landscapes in the country. It includes part of the Sonoran Desert and Mount San Gorgonio, Southern California’s highest peak at more than 11,000 feet.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.