Zinke: Don’t eliminate monuments, but “a handful” should be downsized

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended to President Donald Trump today that none of 27 national monuments under review should be eliminated — but “a handful,” including Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, ought to be smaller.

Speaking in Billings, Montana, this morning, Zinke told the Associated Press that “unspecified boundary adjustments” for some monuments designated over the past two decades will be included in the recommendations, which he gave to the president today. The report summary of the monuments review is available here.

Zinke said that under his recommendations, public access for hunting, fishing and grazing would be maintained or restored, and none of the sites would revert to new ownership, AP reports. The interior secretary would not confirm whether portions of the monuments would be opened up to oil and gas drilling or other extractive industries, as Trump has recommended.

In April, Trump signed an executive order asking Zinke to review all national monuments designated under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to protect cultural, historic or natural resources on federal land, since Jan. 1, 1996.

“The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time that we ended this abusive practice,” the president said then.

The 27 monuments under review, designated by four different presidents over the past two decades, include Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante in Utah, and Río Grande del Norte in New Mexico. (Canyons of the Ancients was removed from consideration before the Aug. 24 deadline.) Zinke has previously expressed interest in the reduction of Bears Ears, a 1.35-million acre swath of land in southern Utah designated by former President Barack Obama in 2016.

Zinke’s recommendations are less extreme than the widespread privatization many conservationists originally feared. But the potential reduction of monuments such as Bears Ears, which is located on sacred tribal lands, still has environmental groups reeling.

“On the eve the National Park Service’s 101st anniversary, Secretary Zinke is proposing to wipe large swaths of America’s parks off the map,” wrote Jennifer Rokala, executive director for the Center for Western Priorities, in a statement. She said of Zinke, “Today’s recommendations cement his legacy as the most anti-park Interior Secretary in history. If President Trump takes any action to erase national monument acreage, he will trigger a court battle that will drag on for years.”

Responding to claims that Trump might sell off federal lands to states or private companies, Zinke told AP, “I’ve heard this narrative that somehow the land is going to be sold or transferred. That narrative is patently false and shameful. The land was public before and it will be public after.”

During a three-month formal public input period from May to July, the Department of the Interior received millions of comments from individuals and groups. It marked the first time that a formal comment period was open on regulations.gov for national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act. The large majority of the more than 1.3 million publicly available comments support keeping the national monuments as they are.

It is not yet clear what President Trump will do with Zinke’s recommendations. The White House says the president has received them and “is reviewing them to determine his path forward,” The Hill reports.

Photo: The distant spires of Monument Valley from the Valley of the Gods in Bears Ears National Monument. (John Fowler, Creative Commons, Flickr)


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