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Possible Public-Lands Rollback Sparks Suspicion in WV

Trump administration moves that could undermine the naming of national monuments might affect West Virginia's push for a Birthplace of Rivers monument. (Samuel Taylor/Birthplace of Rivers)
Trump administration moves that could undermine the naming of national monuments might affect West Virginia's push for a Birthplace of Rivers monument. (Samuel Taylor/Birthplace of Rivers)
April 28, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginians are likely to react with suspicion to Trump administration moves toward rolling back the national monuments named by his predecessors, according to a local conservation group.

In an unprecedented step, the White House and U.S. Interior Department have announced they'll review - and possibly revoke or shrink - monument status given to public lands over the last 20 years.

West Virginia voted strongly for Trump.

But, Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, says folks here really identify with the woods and forests, and want them protected.

"The first time a president has ever made that kind of move, and it just feels like it flies in the face of the very people who voted for him," she says. "People take pride in those areas here in West Virginia and are willing to fight to defend them."

Written statements from the Interior Department say they want to give rural citizens more of a voice in what federal land gets extra protection. The agency also argues that recent monuments have been huge - many times larger than the first ones, named early in the last century.

Critics charge the real reason for the review is to make more public land available for energy development.

Rosser says folks will learn a lot watching how the review process goes - if it's dictated from the top, it might be driven by powerful vested interests. But if it's open to the public, she predicts many people will come out to defend public lands.

She notes that's how the monuments are created in the first place.

"Some of these national monuments, most of them, have been decades in the making," she adds. "Local economies have seen great benefits. If they truly listen to the local voices, the business voices will be pressured to keep things as they are."

Rosser and others are backing a push for a Birthplace of Rivers National Monument in the eastern part of the state. One estimate is that a designation could be worth $50 million a year to the local economy.

The century-old Antiquities Act, which empowers presidents to name national monuments, doesn't specifically allow later revisions. Any changes made to current national monuments by the Trump administration are almost certain to be challenged in court.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV