President Donald Trump has designated his first national monument—and it’s an ode to black soldiers who fought for the Union Army in the Civil War. Trump issued his proclamation Friday to establish the Camp Nelson National Monument, a 380-acre parcel of protected land near Lexington, Kentucky, that once served as the state’s largest recruitment center for black troops.
Camp Nelson, which carries historical weight and recognizes the vital role slaves played in American history, was included on a list of potential new monuments in a report the Trump administration issued last year. At the time it garnered less attention than some of the report’s other recommendations, which included revising the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The new monument was designated using the Antiquities Act, the same federal law Trump criticized when revoking the Obama-era designation of Bears Ears.
That irony was not lost on conservation groups.
“If his attempts to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments were to succeed, it would make his designation today protecting Camp Nelson equally temporary,” said Center for Western Priorities Executive Director Jennifer Rokala in a statement. “America’s national monuments are monuments to our history and heritage, from African Americans who served in the Civil War at Camp Nelson, to Native Americans from five tribes who honor Bears Ears as their ancestral homeland. An attack on one monument is an attack on all monuments.”
Still, this new monument is way smaller than any Trump’s attempted to kill. Bears Ears was set to be the largest designation ever at 1.35 million acres. It also would’ve placed a special emphasis on Native American history, culture, and land management.
Former President Barack Obama made that happen. In fact, Obama protected more land than any president before him.
Now, we’re stuck with Trump, who’s less interested in protecting our public lands than opening them up for business. Oil and gas interests had a lot to do with his administration’s move to dramatically shrink Bears Ears. And as a New York Times investigation published Saturday reported, oil production on federal lands increased by 25 percent in the first seven months this year compared to the same amount of time in 2016.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been championing the presidentially mandated vision of expanding energy production on federal lands, but word around the block is he’s leaving soon. The next secretary will be expected to carry on this agenda.
Meanwhile, Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase remain in the throes of litigation. Their futures are in the court’s hands right now, but House Democrats at least attempted to intervene earlier this month, writing letters to the administration to convince the Interior Department to wait to conduct an environmental study or land management plan until the lawsuits wrap up.
The administration still plans to move forward on its monument reductions. But the ongoing lawsuits could impact the future of all national monuments, including the newly designated Camp Nelson.