Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommends shrinking Bears Ears National Monument
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending a scale-back of the Bears Ears National Monument in a preliminary report made Monday.
In a conference call with reporters, Zinke described a desire to narrow the protection measures around Bears Ears, which covers 1.4 million acres of sparsely-populated lands in southeastern Utah, but tasked Congress with sorting out many of the details.
The secretary stressed that he thinks the monument should be co-managed by the tribal nations who requested monument status, but argued it should “be right-sized.”
“There is no doubt that it is drop-dead gorgeous country and that it merits some degree of protection, but designating a monument that, including state land, encompasses almost 1.5 million acres where multiple-use management is hindered or prohibited is not the best use of the land and is not in accordance with the intention of the Antiquities Act,” Zinke said.
The public comment period of the monument review has been extended through July 10, with those interested able to chime in at regulations.gov. As of last week, more than 150,000 comments had been submitted online, a large majority of which pushed for the preservation of Bears Ears and other monuments under review.
Any attempts to rescind or diminish any monument is likely to spark a heated legal battle over whether the executive branch has any right to do so.
Members of the five Native American tribes that co-manage the Bears Ears monument and first pushed for its creation have vowed to sue if necessary to protect sacred lands, and a collection of conservation groups and others have made similar commitments.
The Utah Diné Bikéyah, a nonprofit that includes members of the various area tribes that are supportive of preserving the monument as-is, issued a written statement arguing that a change in boundaries could hinder tribal abilities to manage the land because of lost funding potential, fewer law enforcement resources and fewer management options.
"The Secretary’s recommendation isn’t about doing what’s best for Utah," according to the statement. "It’s not about the nuances of the Antiquities Act or differing views on land management. It’s about appeasing political allies and special interests; it’s an illegal move to turn back the clock one hundred years on tribal relations and Utah’s economy."
Zinke declined to estimate how much of the monument could be changed, saying any amendments to the boundaries would depend at least in part on Congress. As part of his recommendation, he urged Congress to revisit existing laws about how wilderness areas and recreation areas should be managed within a monument.
Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop, both Utah Republicans, co-sponsored legislation last year ahead of the monument designation that would have carved out smaller pieces of land for protection, but the bill didn’t make it out of the House despite a heavy GOP majority.
Zinke suggested that the bill had failed because of the likelihood of a veto by then-President Obama, and said new legislation would have a better chance if it had President Trump’s support.
More on Utah national monuments: Zinke hints at changes to Bears Ears, Grand Staircase
Utah lawmakers were celebrating the news Monday, with Chaffetz calling Zinke’s report an important first step in undoing the “gross abuse” of the Antiquities Act.
“A locally-driven, legislative approach is the best way to strike a balance among the people who love and use the vast acreage surrounding the Bears Ears,” he said.
Zinke, formerly a Republican congressman from Montana, spent four days in the beehive state in May, visiting the monument and meeting with stakeholders as he began a review of Bears Ears, the neighboring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and more than two dozen others as ordered by President Trump.
The order included every monument of more than 100,000 acres designated in the last two decades, spanning the decisions of three past presidents. But Utah has been ground zero for the review, with Bears Ears the most recent and the most controversial.
A coalition of tribal leaders, conservation groups, archaeologists and others pushed for the Bears Ears designation, which originally encompassed a larger area of about 1.8 million acres.
The monument was created only after decades of negotiations and discussions, and after members of Congress were given time to come up with a legislative solution.
Advocates who want the monument to remain as created argued Monday that chopping up the monument to make room for mining, energy development other uses would permanently damage a national treasure.
Randi Spivak, public lands program director with the Center for Biological Diversity, called Zinke’s recommendation a “slap in the face” to the tribes that sought protection for the Bears Ears area.
“Sadly, this is yet another corrupt process from the Trump administration that ignores public sentiment and rewards polluting industries that view our public lands as simply another source of profit,” Spivak said.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Visits Grand Staircase-Escalante, Kanab
The Antiquities Act, signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, gives the president broad power to establish national monuments as a way to protect federal land that contains “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”
Many U.S. national parks started as national monuments, including four of the “Mighty Five” national parks in Utah, and there are more than 129 monuments across the country.
A monument designation prevents new mining and drilling operations, and can curtail logging, grazing, road building, recreation and other uses, depending on management rules set up upon designation.
More on Bears Ears National Monument:
The Antiquities Act has no direct language giving presidents the power to rescind designations made by their predecessors, although some legal experts argue Trump could have an implied power to rescind or diminish any monument.
Others argue there are no implied powers in the Antiquities Act, since it deals with public lands, over which only Congress was given Constitutional authority.
A report by the Congressional Research Service published in November found legal analyses going back to the 1930s concluding the president has no power to repeal a past designation.
An opinion by Attorney General Homer Cummings in 1938 implying then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt could not abolish a monument and language in the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act reaffirming that only Congress would have “the authority to modify and revoke withdrawals for national monuments created under the Antiquities Act.”