Browns Canyon National Monument — which protects a unique mosaic of wilderness and wildlife in Colorado's upper Arkansas River Valley — was designated by President Obama in 2015.
(Photo: Bob Wick/U.S. Bureau of Land Management)
A monumental legacy
Former President Barack Obama accomplished a lot in eight years. Beyond reviving the economy and cutting unemployment, his legacy includes major environmental feats such as reducing air pollution, boosting clean energy and making the U.S. a global leader in fighting climate change.
It also includes many smaller moves that add up to something pretty big: the creation and expansion of national monuments. These are federally protected areas that feature "objects of historic or scientific interest," and can be established directly by Congress or the president.
Faced with gridlock on Capitol Hill, Obama famously relied on executive orders to implement many of his policies. (It's worth noting, however, that his executive orders rank 16th among all presidents, behind George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan). And thanks to the Antiquities Act of 1906 — a law signed by Theodore Roosevelt, who used it 18 times — those orders include a variety of protected places around the country. Obama designated 29 national monuments during his tenure, more than any other president, and also substantially expanded four others.
A haze of uncertainty now hangs over many of Obama's executive orders, including those 33 national monuments. In April 2017, President Donald Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review any monument that covers at least 100,000 acres and was created since Jan. 1, 1996.
The review follows Republican opposition to certain monuments, especially Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. In December 2017, Trump announced a controversial shrinkage of Bears Ears by more than 80 percent, along with a 45 percent reduction of Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante. Zinke's final report also urged Trump to shrink or reshuffle several others, including Nevada's Gold Butte; Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou; Maine's Katahdin Woods and Waters; Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean; both Rose Atoll and Pacific Remote Islands in the Pacific Ocean; and New Mexico's Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as well as Rio Grande Del Norte.
Congress has "clear authority" to abolish or shrink monuments, according to a 2016 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), and presidents can modify sites set aside by their predecessors. Still, the CRS adds, they may have trouble repealing them outright:
"No President has ever abolished or revoked a national monument proclamation, so the existence or scope of any such authority has not been tested in courts. However, some legal analyses since at least the 1930s have concluded that the Antiquities Act, by its terms, does not authorize the President to repeal proclamations, and that the President also lacks implied authority to do so."
To highlight what's at stake, here are photos and facts about each of the 29 national monuments created by Obama — plus the four existing sites he expanded. Click through the images and scan the details for a reminder of why these places are worth protecting.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in November 2016.