'Handful' of national monuments may change per Interior Secretary's recommendations

25 August, 2017, 01:46 | Author: Chad Mckenzie
  • Indigenous groups fought for years for national monument designation for Utah's Bears Ears region—which is now in danger of being reduced in size following an Interior Department recommendation

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will recommend on August 24 whether to eliminate or shrink almost two dozen national monuments, creating the first major test for a 111-year-old law that gives presidents the power to protect swaths of public land.

A tribal coalition that pushed for the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, designated by President Barack Obama in December, unveiled a new webpage Tuesday that explains the cultural importance of lands considered sacred to them.

Some critics of federal land ownership hope President Donald Trump will overrule his Interior secretary's recommendation and rescind recently created national monuments.

White House officials speaking not for attribution said they will release a final report in the coming weeks. This secrecy shows the Trump administration knows their attack on national monuments is wildly unpopular.

Zinke on Thursday is scheduled to be in his home state of Montana with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for a briefing on the state's raging wildfires. Some environmental groups have already indicated they would file legal challenges to any effort to change the boundaries of any national monuments.

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"The debate has galvanized a lot of different interests beyond traditional environmental groups, including outdoor retailers and hunters and fishers, who are out there mobilizing during this review", said Sharon Buccino of the Natural Resources Defense Council. They also posted a letter sent to President Trump telling him that part of "making American great again" is honoring tribal history and rights.

"Clearly the Antiquities Act was created to protect the smallest area compatible with protection of the object", Zinke told Reuters in June in Boston, where he met with stakeholders to discuss the Atlantic coast Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine monument.

Monument supporters in Nevada are bracing for bad news.

Bears Ears is among the monuments that Zinke is expected to recommend shrinking. The restrictions aren't as stringent as those at national parks but can include limits on mining, timber-cutting and recreational activities such as riding off-road vehicles.

"If Secretary Zinke expects Americans to be thankful because he wants to merely erase large chunks of national monuments instead of eliminating them entirely", she said, "he is badly mistaken".

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The official was not authorized to publicly discuss a draft report and insisted on anonymity. "Interior Sec. Zinke clearly understands that eliminating any national monuments outright would have provoked a massive backlash from the American people".

But he says there would be changes to a "handful". President Bill Clinton declared the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996.

Defenders of Wildlife vice president of landscape conservation Mark Salvo says downsizing any national monuments would have a negative impact on fish, wildlife and plants.

Over 2.8 million comments were submitted to Interior during the public comment period and an analysis of 1.3 million comments publicly available on regulations.gov found that 99.2 percent opposed Trump's executive order, with respondents mentioning a wide variety of concerns.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tells The Associated Press that he's recommending that all 27 monuments under review should be spared from elimination. In 1938, the US attorney general wrote a formal opinion saying the Antiquities Act authorized presidents to establish a monument but did not grant them the right to abolish one, and several legal scholars argue that Congress indicated in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 that it reserved the right to alter any existing monument.

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The monument review stems from criticism that past presidents, especially Mr. Obama, used the 1906 Antiquities Act - which gives presidents the power to create monuments - to shut down huge areas of land and sea to energy development.

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