After a four-month review, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending reductions to “a handful” of national monuments, including possibly Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — but no outright erasing of any of the 27 public land preserves under scrutiny.
Zinke submitted his recommendations to President Donald Trump Thursday, but in an interview with The Associated Press, the former Montana congressman declined to identify boundary changes he is seeking for some of the large monuments designated by Barack Obama and other past presidents under the Antiquities Act.
Nor did Zinke identify which monuments he proposes to shrink, although he has previously called for “right-sizing” the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears in southeastern Utah and has named six monuments in other Western states that will remain unchanged.
A report in The Washington Post, citing several anonymous sources at Interior who were ostensibly briefed on the report, said Zinke is proposing to shrink Grand Staircase, as well as Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Those monuments were designated by President Bill Clinton, and Obama expanded Cascade-Siskiyou to 113,000 acres.
Interior on Thursday released only a two-page “summary” that was largely free of detail.
Just when specifics are released will up to the White House, and that may take awhile, according to Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
It is appropriate to give the Trump administration time to weigh Zinke’s report before divulging its conclusions and making a public statement, Bishop told reporters.
In announcing the national monument review in April, Trump echoed criticisms leveled by many Utah officials.
The president called the Bears Ears and other monument designations “a massive land grab” that “should never have happened,” offering a clue that he intended to wipe out some of Obama’s legacy by redrawing or undoing some of the large monuments he set aside.
“No president should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object,” Zinke said Thursday in a statement.
“The recommendations I sent to the president on national monuments will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and also provide a much needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses and recreation,” Zinke said.
Obama designated Bears Ears at the request of five American Indian tribes with spiritual and ancestral ties to Cedar Mesa and other lands surrounding the monument’s iconic twin buttes in San Juan County. One Navajo Nation delegate urged Zinke to “brave up” and stand with tribes.
“He shouldn’t be recommending these monuments be reduced or rescinded,” Davis Filfred told reporters. ”We are ready for anything. We are here to fight for our monument. It is not just for people. It is habitat for a lot of species. This is their home.”
Without providing details on the potential changes, Bishop and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on Thursday denounced the Utah monuments as “a prime example of Antiquities Act abuse,” wielded by presidents to hand out political favors rather than protect objects of historic and scientific interest under the narrow confines intended by the 1906 Antiquities Act.
“The issue is Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally to dictate land-management policy for enormous swaths of public land,” Bishop said. “This is about people as well and the impact of increasingly larger and restrictive monument designations on the people who feel their voices and perspectives have been ignored in the process.”
Interior’s summary dismissed this support as the fruit of “a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations,” while crediting comments calling for monument reductions because they stemmed from a concern for “traditional multiple use” such grazing, timber, mining, hunting, fishing and motorized recreation.
“Opponents point to other cases where monument designation has resulted in reduced public access, road closures, hunting and fishing restrictions, multiple and confusing management plans, reduced grazing allotments and timber production, and pressure applied to private landowners encompassed by or adjacent to a monument to sell,” the summary states.
Bishop and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., held dueling news conferences Thursday providing opposing views for Zinke’s recommendations.
Bishop, who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, used his to illustrate his case in favor of enacting major limits on the Antiquities Act’s reach, which he argues should be limited to small areas targeting specific landmarks, structures and objects of scientific interest.
“This is about the rule of law, where we as a country adhere to clear language and intent of the law, or whether we allow the executive branch to simply make up the rules as it goes along,” Bishop said.
In stark contrast, Heinrich defended Obama’s designation of two monuments under review in his state — Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks — and vowed to fight for them regardless of what Trump does.
“These places aren’t just about outdoor recreation. They are about our culture and history and trying to live up to the greatest potential of that culture and history,” Heinrich said at a news conference in Albuquerque.
Heinrich and others contend landscape-scale designations are legal and valid uses of the Antiquities Act.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he is “heartened” by Zinke‘s recognition that presidential authority is limited under the Antiquities Act, arguing large-scale protections must be handled through legislation.
“It is my conviction,” Herbert wrote in a statement, “that working together we can protect Utah’s iconic landscapes for us and future generations, give to Native Americans meaningful co-management that they currently do not have over lands that have been part of their sacred heritage, and provide access to sustainable recreational activities, all while honoring the BLM charter’s important principle of multiple use.”