What are national monuments and why is Trump reviewing them?

American history, pre-history, and ecology all in one

I once had a colleague, an expat, who preferred everything about his home country to the United States. His list included culture, politics, education, and even the minutest aspects of our food. The bouquet of his native land’s cinnamon was allegedly more delicate and contained subtler flavors than the overpowering barbarism of American cinnamon, for example. This colleague preferred everything about his home country, that is, except its nature. In this, he begrudgingly admitted, the United States trounced his homeland. And he isn’t alone in appreciating America’s natural beauty. US travel analysis data shows that roughly a third of overseas visitors coming to the United States visited a national park or monument.

The United States has 58 National Parks, from marquee majesties like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, to less well known but no less precious places like Colorado’s Black Canyon. And then there are places like Organ Pipe Cactus in Arizona, and California’s Devil’s Postpile. We often think of those places as National Parks, because they are overseen by the National Park Services, but they’re actually National Monuments. It takes an act of Congress to create a National Park, but thanks to The American Antiquities Act of 1906, all it takes to establish a monument is a presidential pen.

Today, President Trump will sign an executive order to “review” 21 years of presidential decrees that established National Monuments, dating back to 1996 when President Clinton established in Utah Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

What will a review accomplish?

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