Sportsmen and National Monuments: It’s Complicated and That’s OK

By David Allen, Miles Moretti, and Jeff Crane

If you have a passion for spending time in the outdoors, you’re probably aware that the Department of the Interior is currently in the process of reviewing the status of some national monuments created under the Antiquities Act since the mid-1990s. The review, prompted by an Executive Order, is restricted to relatively large monuments of more than 100,000 acres and directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to consider a number of factors, mostly surrounding consistency with existing federal laws, the impact of designations on use of the lands and a retroactive look at whether sufficient engagement with stakeholders occurred before and after the lands in question were designated a national monument.

To those that depend on access to federal land for hunting, fishing, trapping, target shooting, particularly in the West, where more than 70% of hunters rely on public land, the prospect of losing these opportunities is unconscionable.

When it comes to national monuments and America’s sportsmen and women, it’s in our best interest to avoid approaching Interior’s review as a zero-sum game. With the Antiquities Act having been around for more than a century, there are numerous examples of how these designations have accommodated, improved and protected hunting, fishing and habitat admirably. Conversely, monument designations have also negatively impacted recreational access and state wildlife agencies’ ability to effectively manage fish and wildlife species and their habitats. And that’s why over-simplified statements like, “An attack on one monument is an attack on them all” don’t make a whole lot of sense. It is still a fact that with or without Monument designation, these lands are already public lands and will remain so only through due diligence and united sportsmen community focus.

Did hunters benefit when they lost access to 21,000 acres of BLM land when Castle Mountains National Monument was designated through presidential proclamation? Of course not. Did target shooters benefit when the agency determined that hundreds of thousands of traditionally used acres in Sonoran Desert and Prehistoric Trackways National Monuments were incompatible with target shooting? Of course not. Were twenty-six of the leading national sporting conservation groups out-of-line when they opposed the creation of a new 1.7 million acre monument in Arizona’s Kaibab National Forest over concerns that designation would preclude wildlife managers from being able to fulfill Teddy Roosevelt’s vision of setting aside the area for conservation of game animals? I don’t think so.

Despite these shortcomings, we can simultaneously acknowledge that places like Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument facilitates conservation of some of the best bighorn sheep habitat in the country and that places like Browns Canyon National Monument, if managed properly, can protect a fishery resource that is the lifeblood of a local economy. We can also use the national monument review to point out that some monument proclamations have done a better job of ensuring the advancement of the sporting conservation community’s interests than others.

We’ve already seen encouraging signs that this process could yield positive results for the sporting conservation community. In early September, Secretary Zinke announced Secretarial Order 3356 which in addition to several other components aimed at expanding public access to lands and waters managed by the Department of the Interior, directs bureaus within the agency to amend National Monument Management Plans to include or expand hunting, recreational shooting, and fishing opportunities to the extent practicable under the law.  We are optimistic this will further sportsmen’s access to existing national monuments and provide state fish and wildlife agencies the certainty needed to effectively manage and conserve species in places where monument designations have made this job more difficult.

Ultimately, sportsmen and women should continue their legacy of approaching challenging natural resources questions with a spirit of pragmatism and critical-thinking that has served our nation’s original conservationists well for more than a century. To do this, it’s absolutely critical that we collectively elevate public discourse that will retain our community’s hard-earned credibility, a distinguishing characteristic that has historically proven to be our biggest asset, even in the face of shifting political winds.

David Allen has served as president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation since 2007. Over that time, RMEF has had record growth in terms of membership, mission accomplishment and vastly improved its financial standing and national outreach. A lifelong conservationist and avid elk hunter, he also served on the Wildlife Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, the Executive Committee of the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports and on the board of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

Miles Moretti has served as the President/CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation for the last 11 years.  He retired from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources after 30 years of service. He has served as Chair of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners and is a member of the Wildlife Hunting Heritage Conservation Council and serves on the boards of Intermountain West Joint Venture and the North American Grouse Partnership.

Jeff Crane is the President of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. He has served as Vice-Chairman of the Sporting Conservation Council, a Federal Advisory Committee tasked with advising the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior on wildlife and hunting-related issues. He has also served as Chairman of American Wildlife Conservation Partners, a coalition including 48 of the nation’s leading sporting conservation groups.


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