Political News

Interior recommends shrinking some national monument areas, won't eliminate any

Posted August 24

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will not recommend eliminating any national monuments following a review ordered by President Donald Trump, but changes to boundaries that could open up federal lands to energy production remain possible.

Zinke retweeted a tweet from the AP Thursday of an interview where the secretary said he is recommending changes to a "handful" of monuments.

At Trump's direction, Zinke earlier this year launched a review of 27 national monuments, a controversial move that could undo protections for millions of acres of federal lands, as well as limits on oil and gas or other energy production.

Zinke has since offered a reprieve to six of those monuments, announcing he would recommend those lands remain protected.

A White House official said the President has seen the report.

"President Trump has received Secretary Zinke's draft report for the Antiquities Act, and is currently reviewing his recommendations to determine the best path forward for the American people," the official said.

Zinke did not outline other details in the AP interview and it was not immediately clear if his review will be made public. A two-page summary of the report posted on the Interior Department website contains no recommendations.

Interior said that Zinke's 120-day review included more than 60 meetings with "advocates and opponents of monument designations."

"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 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," he added.

Environmentalist groups reacted negatively to the limited details provided by the public summary.

"Secretary Zinke needs to level with the American people. Which priceless national monuments does he recommend shrinking?" said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, oceans, and wildlife at Earthjustice.

A spokesman for outdoor retailer REI on the other hand said the summary offers "a couple of bright spots."

"The fact that they are acknowledging that there were 2.4 million comments in support of these monuments is a big deal -- the administration was previously reporting 1 million," said Rob Discher. "Honestly, if what really happens is the President decides to walk away from this thing because there was a show of force, and the Department of Interior doesn't release anything, that's a win."

According to the Bangor Daily News, one of the monuments still under review -- the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument -- will see "nothing dramatic." Zinke is trying to "thread the needle" and will put together recommendations to satisfy all parties involved, a source told the paper.

Environmentalists have railed against the review and plan legal challenges to any planned changes to monument boundaries.

"Zinke's sham review was rigged from the beginning to open up more public lands to fossil fuel, mining and timber industries," said Randi Spivak, public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "He and Trump will not be allowed to rob Americans of their public lands. Any effort to change national monument boundaries or reduce protections will be challenged."

Focus on Bears Ears

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah has been the primary focus of the debate.

President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears as a national monument in December, less than a month before leaving office, bestowing strict federal protections to the 1.3-million-acre stretch of land in southeastern Utah that is home to ancient cliff dwellings and other land sacred to five Native American tribes.

While the decision drew praise from Native American leaders and environmentalists, it was also met with fierce criticism from Republicans in the state who slammed the move as a federal overreach.

Zinke trekked to Bears Ears in May to tour the national monument and meet with stakeholders on both sides of the issue and a month later he issued interim recommendations.

As part of an expedited review, Zinke recommended in an interim report earlier this year that Trump revise the Bears Ears boundaries.

"The Bears Ears National Monument contains some objects that are appropriate for protection under the act," Zinke wrote in the interim report, referring to rock art and sacred Native American sites. "However, having conducted the review ... I find that the Bears Ears National Monument does not fully conform with the policies set forth" in Trump's executive order.

This story has be updated.

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