Public lands can provide a wide range of environmental benefits. Granting protective status to these lands generally imposes restrictions on resource development and extraction activities and thus often generates conflict and debate among public and private stakeholders. In the United States, this is especially the case for national monuments, which are areas that contain significant historic, prehistoric, cultural, and/or geologic resources. In this article, I describe the controversy surrounding national monument designations, particularly in the western United States. I describe the history and status of national monuments, discuss the evidence concerning the benefits and costs of national monuments and other protected lands, and examine public land conflicts in the U.S. west in the context of economic trends in rural communities. I conclude with a discussion of the future outlook for national monuments and public lands in the United States.