interior chief recommends changes on some protected lands
Herald and News 8/25/17
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced
Thursday he won’t seek to rescind any national monuments carved
from the wilderness and oceans by past presidents. But he said
he will press for some boundary changes and left open the
possibility of allowing drilling, mining or other industries on
Twenty-seven monuments were put under review in April by
President Donald Trump, who has charged that the millions of
acres designated for protection by President Barack Obama were
part of a “massive federal land grab.”
If Trump adopts Zinke’s recommendations, it could ease some of
the worst fears of the president’s opponents, who warned that
vast public lands and marine areas could be stripped of federal
But significant reductions in the size of the monuments or
changes in what activities are allowed on them could trigger
fierce resistance, too, including lawsuits.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Zinke said he is
recommending changes to a “handful” of sites, including
unspecified boundary adjustments, and suggested some monuments
are too large. He would not reveal his recommendations for
specific sites but previously said Utah’s Bears Ears National
Monument needs to be reduced in size.
The White House said only that it received Zinke’s
recommendations and is reviewing them.
Conservationists and tribal leaders responded with alarm and
distrust, demanding the full release of Zinke’s recommendations
and vowing to challenge attempts to shrink any monuments.
Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters,
called Zinke’s review a pretext for “selling out our public
lands and waters” to the oil industry and others.
Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president of Oceana, which has
been pushing for preservation of five marine monuments included
in the review, said that simply saying “changes” are coming
doesn’t reveal any real information.
“A change can be a small tweak or near annihilation,” Savitz
said. “The public has a right to know.”
A tribal coalition that pushed for the creation of the
2,100-square-mile Bears Ears monument on sacred tribal land said
it is prepared to launch a legal fight against even a slight
reduction in its size.
Republican Utah state Rep. Mike Noel, who has pushed to rescind
the designation of Bears Ears as a monument, said he could live
with a rollback of its boundaries.
He called that a good compromise that would enable continued
tourism while still allowing activities that locals have pursued
for generations — logging, livestock grazing and oil and gas
“The eco-tourists basically say, ‘Throw out all the rubes and
the locals and get rid of that mentality of grazing and
utilizing these public lands for any kind of renewable resource
such as timber harvesting and even some mineral production,’”
Noel said. “That’s a very selfish attitude.”
Other sites that might see changes include the Grand
Staircase-Escalante monument in the Utah desert, consisting of
cliffs, canyons, natural arches and archaeological sites,
including rock paintings; Katahdin Woods and Waters, 136 square
miles of forest of northern Maine; and Cascade Siskiyou, a
156-square-mile region where three mountain ranges converge in
The marine monuments encompass more than 340,000 square miles
and include four sites in the Pacific Ocean and an array of
underwater canyons and mountains off New England.
Zinke did not directly answer whether any monuments would be
newly opened to energy development, mining and other industries
Trump has championed.
But the former Montana congressman said public access for uses
such as hunting, fishing or grazing would be maintained or
restored. He also spoke of protecting tribal interests.
“There’s an expectation we need to look out 100 years from now
to keep the public land experience alive in this country,” Zinke
said. “You can protect the monument by keeping public access to
The recommendations cap an unprecedented four-month review based
on a belief that the 1906 Antiquities Act had been misused by
presidents to create oversized monuments that hinder energy
development, grazing and other uses. The review looked at
whether the protected areas should be eliminated, downsized or
The review raised alarm among conservationists who said
protections could be lost for ancient cliff dwellings, towering
sequoia trees, deep canyons and ocean habitats.
Zinke previously announced that no changes would be made at six
of the 27 monuments under review — in Montana, Colorado, Idaho,
California, Arizona and Washington.
In the interview, Zinke struck back against conservationists who
had warned of impending mass sell-offs of public lands by the
“I’ve heard this narrative that somehow the land is going to be
sold or transferred,” he said. “That narrative is patently false
and shameful. The land was public before and it will be public
National monument designations are used to protect land revered
for its natural beauty and historical significance. 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.
The monuments under review were designated by four presidents
over the past two decades.
Zinke suggested that the same presidential proclamation process
used to create the monuments could be used to enact changes.
Environmental groups contend the Antiquities Act allows
presidents to create national monuments but gives only Congress
the power to modify them. Mark Squillace, a law professor at the
University of Colorado, said he agrees with that view but noted
the dispute has never gone before the courts.
Conservative legal scholars have come down on the side of the
No president has tried to eliminate a monument, but some have
reduced or redrawn the boundaries on 18 occasions, according to
the National Park Service.
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