Timeline: Conservation, Public Land, and Trump
An overview of the president’s ongoing influence on issues that matter most to sportsmen
With Donald Trump’s presidency still in its infancy, the Field & Stream editors created a timeline of major news events concerning conservation, natural resources, and public lands that have transpired since Trump first announced his candidacy. The stories follow not only president, but also members of his cabinet, as well as Congress. We will add to this timeline throughout Trump’s presidency, briefly summarizing the news and linking to additional coverage. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive and objective overview of the Trump Administration’s effect—positive and negative—on issues that matter most to sportsmen. This, we hope, will help put singular news events in greater context.
Zinke recommends shrinking Bears Ears National Monument
June 12, 2017: Following the submission of an interim report to President Donald Trump regarding the Bears Ears National Monument, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a statement saying that the site’s monument designation doesn’t make “the best use of the land and is not in accordance with the intention of the Antiquities Act.”
Though Bears Ears warrants some protections, Zinke continued, the boundaries of the 1.5-million-acre monument need to be “right-sized”—or made smaller. The main reason for shrinking Bears Ears, Zinke suggested, is because multiple-use management is “hindered” in national monuments—meaning, typically, that gas and oil production and grazing are limited. The Trump Administration has made its intentions to open up public land for resource extraction abundantly clear, and Zinke’s statement didn’t stray from this stance.
Bears Ears was one of 27 national monuments that, in late April, the president ordered the Interior Department to review and consider whether to rescind their protected status. Bears Ears is undoubtedly the most contentious of the national monuments, given the highly politicized circumstances surrounding its designation. The site is of archeological and natural significance, and is, Zinke said, “drop-dead gorgeous country.”
In response to Zinke’s announcement, Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, called the Antiquities Act—the law, first signed by Theodore Roosevelt, which affords the president the authority to designate national monuments—one of the most important mechanisms for conserving wilderness and wildlife habitat. “The recommendations made by Secretary Zinke, if adopted” Tawney said in a statement “would undermine the strength of the Antiquities Act, blunt a powerful conservation tool, and diminish our national monuments system overall.”
DOI announces national monuments under review
May 5, 2017: Following an executive order issued by President Trump in late April, the Department of the Interior released a list of 27 national monuments under review, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, in Montana, and the Bears Ears National Monument, in Utah. Within days of the announcement, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited Bears Ears as part of a so-called listening tour, with Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah in tow.
Trump orders review of national monuments
April 26, 2017: President Trump signed an order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review 57 national monuments and to consider whether to rescind their protected status. Sportsmen’s groups were quick to condemn the order. In a statement to Field & Stream, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers conservation director John Gale said the order was promoted by anti-public lands members of Congress. Not only that, he said, the review “could create unintended consequences that jeopardize important fish and wildlife habitat on public lands and invite unproductive dialogues that distract us from enhancing management of our public lands and waters.”
Upon signing the order, the president claimed that past administrations had abused the powers of the Antiquities Act of 1906—a piece of landmark legislation signed by Theodore Roosevelt—by designating too much federal land as national monuments. President Obama’s last-minute designation of the Bears Ears National Monument, in particular, was seen as executive overreach, and politically motivated. A legal expert told the New York Times that the Trump Administration would undoubtedly face a legal battle should it try to rescind the designation of national monuments, which would be a first for a U.S. president.
Chaffetz won’t seek re-election, buys domains
April 19, 2017: Rep. Jason Chaffetz—the chairman of the House oversight committee, who had supported numerous bills promoting the transfer or sale of public lands—announced that he would not seek re-election, or campaign for a different position, in 2018, as The New York Times reported. In a statement posted to Facebook, he called the decision personal. What’s more, he wrote that he had long advocated for limited terms for public servants, and, “After more than 1,500 nights away from my home, it is time.”
Interestingly enough, that same day, reports surfaced that Chaffetz’s team had purchased two domain names—Jason2028.com and JasonChaffetz2028.com—hinting at a potential run for the White House.
Leaked document reveals BLM plan
April 10, 2017: A document outlining President Trump’s plans for the BLM was leaked to the press, confirming the fears of conservationists. Conservation editor Bob Marshall noted that the document called for a return to the “energy development first” model of public-land management imposed by the George W. Bush Administration, in the early 2000s. Trump’s BLM plan called for making additional lands available for energy development; and a streamlined process for leasing federal land for coal, oil, and gas extraction, among other initiatives. “Sportsmen support responsible energy development on BLM lands,” said Joel Webster, director of Western lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “but it should not be done at the expense of wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.”
DOI ends coal moratorium
March 29, 2017: Following an executive order to repeal Obama-era environmental policies, the Department of the Interior announced that it would cease its moratorium on the sale of new coal leases on federal land. “Though these directives open the door to new mining operations on federal ground, and will likely result in lower costs for resource extractors, they do not necessarily mean new mines will spring up overnight,” Field & Stream contributing editor Michael R. Shea wrote in response. “Federal reviews and permitting procedure for environmental impacts on all mining and drilling operations on federal land are still in place, at least for now.” A BLM document leaked to the press days later, however, would suggest that the leasing-process review could soon change.
Trump undoes climate-change policies
March 28, 2017: President Trump signed a major executive order to unwind environmental policies and restrictions on energy production enacted during the Obama administration. The move was seen as an effort, in part, to revive the coal industry, though experts have attributed its losses to competition from natural gas, not regulations, as the Trump administration had claimed.
The Senate kills Planning 2.0
March 7, 2017: The Senate voted to kill the Bureau of Land Management’s revised land-management rule, known as Planning 2.0. The long-awaited reform was designed to streamline the BLM’s planning process, and to make the Bureau more transparent. Legislators from Western states, in particular, had pushed back on the plan, for fear that it would give citizens outside the region increased influence on public-land-management decisions. When asked by Field & Stream how the BLM would proceed in the wake of Planning 2.0’s demise and whether any of the plan’s improvements would resurface, a division chief with the Bureau said, “We’re waiting on guidance.”
Rep. Bishop requests $50 million for public-lands sale
March 3, 2017: Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah—the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and the architect of land-transfer movement—asked budget writers to set aside $50 million to offset the cost of transferring federal public lands to state control, a move widely opposed by sportsmen.
Bishop’s request followed reports that the Department of the Interior could face major budget cuts, which casted further doubt on President Trump’s support of federal management of Western public lands. In January 2016, Trump had told Field & Stream that he didn’t think “there’s any reason” to reduce the budget for public-land management, but the proposed cuts seemed to indicate a shift in his stance. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told his staff that he was not happy about the proposed cuts. “But we’re going to fight about it, and I think I’m going to win at the end of the day,” he said. Later he added, “You can hear it from my lips: We will not sell or transfer public land.”
Zinke comes out strong for sportsmen
March 2, 2017: A day after receiving Senate approval for his position as Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke signed what were considered two pro-sportsmen orders. The first, and the more controversial, overturned lead ammo and tackle bans on properties and waters managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The second instructed federal bureaus and agencies to identify locations where recreation and fishing opportunities could be expanded on federal public land. Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall said the orders were a clear sign that Zinke would be a voice for sportsmen in the Department of the Interior.
Zinke had largely won the support of sportsmen’s groups, but he had received criticism for his support of expanded drilling and mining development on public lands.
Trump orders review of Clear Water Rule
February 28, 2017: President Trump signed an order instructing the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the Waters of the United States Rule, which protects wetlands and tributaries not covered by the Clean Water Act. The president called it a “horrible, horrible rule.” In response, Field & Stream conservation writer Hal Herring speculated that the death of the Clear Water Rule was likely nigh, which could undercut the authority and effectiveness of the Clean Water Act. “That does not mean that we will now descend into poison and blue ruin, that our sons and daughters will never fish the rivers and lakes we love,” he wrote. “But it does mean that we better come up with new solutions to protecting our waters, and we must do that now.”
The Senate scraps stream-protection rule
February 2, 2017: The Senate voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule, an Obama-era policy that restricted mining companies from allowing waste to run into seasonal and rain-dependent streams. Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio told reporters that the rule was not, in fact, intended to protect mountain streams from mining waste. Instead, “it was an effort to regulate the coal mining industry right out of business,” he argued.
In response, John Gale, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers conservation director, told Field & Stream, “The idea that anyone in America would be okay with waste coming from coal mines and entering our waters is completely ludicrous.” Trump signed the bill into law later that month.
February 1, 2017: Owing to overwhelming public criticism, Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced that he would withdraw a bill calling for the sale of 3 million acres of public land. Field & Stream confirmed with members of Chaffetz’s office, however, that he would not rescind a bill that would strip the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service of their law-enforcement functions.
I am withdrawing HR 621. I'm a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands. The bill would have disposed of small parcels of lands Pres. Clinton identified as serving no public purpose but groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message. The bill was originally introduced several years ago. I look forward to working with you. I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow. #keepitpublic #tbt
A bold first week
January 30, 2017: After President Trump’s first week in office, conservation editor Bob Marshall wrote that sportsmen and conservationists “were right to be worried.” He raised concerns over climate-change information being removed from the White House website, a freeze on E.P.A. grants, and Trump’s promising to cut environment regulations “massively,” as well as to reduce the amount of time the public has to comment on proposed energy-development leases on public land. The story quickly became one of F&S’s most-read articles of the month, and provoked intense, and polarized, comments on social media, as Forbes noted.
Chaffetz proposes selling 3 million acres of public land
January 24, 20017: Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah reintroduced a bill calling for the sale of 3 million acres of federal public land, in 10 Western states. He said the tracts “serve no purpose” for taxpayers and that selling them would spur economic growth. The response from sportsmen was immediate and intense. The Wilderness Society called the bill “an egregious assault on Our Wild,” and soon non-outdoors publications, such as Men’s Journal and The Guardian, picked up on the story, intensifying the public backlash against the proposed measure.
A public-lands rule change
January 3, 2017: On its first day in session, the House passed an extensive rules package, in which was an amendment changing the way Congress calculates the costs of transferring federal lands to states. “[The House] wasted no time making it easier to repeal environmental regulations essential to protecting the habitat base fundamental to public outdoors sports,” wrote Field & Stream conservation editor Bob Marshall in response.
The House also passed a series of rules making it easier for Congress to roll back environmental regulations, citing concerns of burdensome federal overreach.
A sportsman for interior secretary
December 13, 2016: In a change of course, Trump named Rep. Ryan Zinke, an outspoken opponent of a federal lands transfer, as his pick to lead the Department of the Interior. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership called Zinke the “best cabinet nominee for sportsmen, so far.”
Trump considers Rodgers for top Interior Department job
December 9, 2016: The New York Times reported that Trump was expected to nominate Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers as secretary of the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and United States Geological Survey, in addition to other agencies. The news sparked an outcry from conservation and sportsmen’s groups, given Rodgers’s past support for transferring federal lands to states and for further developing public lands for energy and oil.
Pruitt to run E.P.A.
December 8, 2016: President-elect Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which The Washington Post called “a move signaling an assault on President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy,” given Pruitt’s history of battling the agency he would soon run.
In an interview with Fox News, Steve Hayes, editor for the conservative news magazine The Weekly Standard said, “[Pruitt] is the person you’d want if you wanted to challenge the EPA… It is funny to watch this liberal heads explode as this happens.”
Trump claims the White House
November 8, 2016: After Donald J. Trump won the presidential election, Field & Stream simultaneously published two editorials, one by rifles editor David E. Petzal, the other by conservation editor Bob Marshall. With the defeat of Hillary Clinton, gun owners had “dodged the biggest bullet that is likely to pass their way for this and the next generation,” Petzal wrote. Marshall, on the other hand, noted that, though gun owners would benefit from the election, “the sportsmen’s conservation community has reason to worry.”
Trump “doesn’t like” potential land transfer
January 21, 2016: At the annual SHOT Show, Donald J. Trump, a leading Republican presidential candidate, told Field & Stream that he doesn’t like the idea of transferring federal public lands to states. “You don’t know what the state is going to do,” he said. “I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?” He also said he didn’t think “there’s any reason” to cut the budget for federal-land management. See the video below.