PUBLIC LANDS -- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended President Trump “revise the existing boundaries” of the Bears Ears National Historic Monument and call on Congress to dictate the terms of how parts of the area should be managed, The Washington Post reports today. Some conservation groups call it the first step in stripping federal protections for the monument in Utah and possibly for other monuments under review.
In an interim report Zinke gave to the White House on Saturday, he proposes Trump ask Congress to give tribal officials authority to co-manage “designated cultural resources” in the area and “make more appropriate conservation designations” within an area that President Barack Obama formally protected in southeastern Utah late last year.
Zinke suggested holding off on any final decision, however, until a full review of 27 national monuments designated by Trump’s predecessors is completed. Trump signed an executive order in April ordering Zinke to conduct the 120-day review, and he instructed the secretary to first report back on Bears Ears, a 1.35-million-acre site Obama designated in December under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Meanwhile, Montana groups launched a campaign today called Hold Our Ground to protect national monuments and other public lands that hold cultural, historical, and scientific value for the people of Montana and the United States in response to Trump's order to review the 27 monuments. The group's initial priority is to keep the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument the way it is
Here's more from today's press conference with Zinke from The Washington Post:
A coalition of tribes, environmentalists, outdoor recreation businesses and academics had pressed for the designation because some of the area’s more than 100,000 archaeological sites have been damaged in recent years by vandalism, off-road vehicle use and looting. Gov. Gary R. Herbert and Utah’s congressional delegation, all Republicans, argued that lawmakers should determine the boundaries of any monument rather than the White House.
Zinke, who emphasized (today) that “the recommendations were not made in a bubble in Washington DC” but determined after “we traveled by air, by car, by foot and by horseback,” said that the current boundaries do not accord with the 1906 law’s provision that any designation be confined to “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
“If you look at the Bears Ears as a whole, there’s a lot more drop-dead gorgeous land than there are historic, prehistoric objects,” the secretary said, adding that he could not provide a specific acreage estimate because it would depend on how Congress would draw the new lines. Referring to the area’s key historic sites and structures, he said, “these items and objects can be identified, segregated and reasonably separated.”
The proposal drew sharp criticism of environmental and outdoors’ groups, along with praise from Utah Republicans.
National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Collin O’Mara, who participated in a signing ceremony at Zinke’s office during his first day on the job, said in a statement that the administration solicited public input on the matter, and “more than a million hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts from Utah and the entire country loudly proclaiming Bears Ears deserves protection. For the Administration to then ignore that broad showing of support and recommend reducing the boundaries of Bears Ears is both disappointing and baffling.”
Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney for the Rocky Mountains office of Earthjustice, said the environmental law firm’s attorneys were readying a lawsuit to challenge the recommendations. “Make no mistake: unilaterally shrinking the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument would not only be a slap in the face to the five sovereign tribes who share sacred ties to this land, it would violate both the Antiquities Act and the separation of powers doctrine.”
The secretary traveled last month to the Bears Ears site, which lies within Utah’s San Juan County, to listen to the state’s politicians and nearby residents who opposed the designation. He also met for a shorter time with supporters of the site.