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Zinke Said to Suggest Trimming National Monument Designations

Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke has reportedly recommended that President Trump trim the size of at least three national monuments designated by previous administrations, including the Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah.

The DOI said Thursday Zinke sent a draft report on the monuments to the White House. An executive order (EO) signed by the president in April ordered the DOI to review any designation of more than 100,000 acres made since Jan. 1, 1996.

The DOI did not include any details over which monuments should be reduced in size or by how much. However, the Washington Post, citing "multiple individuals briefed on the decision," reported that Zinke recommended trimming Bears Ears, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles southwest Oregon and northwest California.

The Trump administration has argued that previous administrations abused the Antiquities Act and sometimes made monument designations against the will of the local public. The original review affected 27 national monuments, but six were removed before the deadline. Of the remaining 21 national monuments up for review, 16 are in the onshore, and all but one -- Maine's Katahdin Woods and Waters -- are in the West. The remaining five are marine monuments in the offshore.

Bears Ears in San Juan County, UT, appears to be the most controversial designation within the scope of the EO. President Obama set aside 1.35 million acres for the monument last December, shortly before leaving office. The area has seen mostly conventional but also some unconventional oil and gas drilling. San Juan County also overlays the Paradox Basin, which includes the Cane Creek and Hovenweep shales.

"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. "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."

A summary of Zinke's report said proponents of keeping the monument designations have "tended to promote monument designation as a mechanism to prevent the sale or transfer of public land. This narrative is false and has no basis in fact." But Zinke agreed with proponents' argument that the designations have economic benefits, in the form of "increased visitation, particularly to service related industries, outdoor recreation industries, and other businesses dependent or supported by tourism."

Meanwhile, Zinke said opponents primarily "supported rescinding or modifying the existing monuments to protect traditional multiple use, and those most concerned were often local residents associated with industries such as grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and fishing, and motorized recreation."

Environmental groups criticized the report.

"Any recommendation from Secretary Zinke to shrink national monuments is hypocritical at best and ruinous at worst," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "Secretary Zinke claims to support public lands, but now we know he's just one more Trump administration stooge for polluting special interests."

The Sierra Club added that Utah Diné Bikéyah Chairman Willie Grayeyes, whose coalition of Native American tribes has advocated for Bears Ears, wrote to administration officials that Zinke "did not meet the requirements laid out in President Trump's EO, which directed him to meet with state, local, and tribal governments. He did not meet with any tribal presidents or chairmen, nor did he meet with any local tribal officials."

The Postalso reported that a White House official confirmed Trump had received Zinke's report, but would not comment on when the report would be made public or when the president would act on Zinke's recommendations.

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