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Ryan Zinke tells Trump to shrink at least 4 national monuments, modify several others

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that President Donald Trump shrink the size of at least four national monuments in the West and modify at least 10 other national monuments, according to a copy of a report obtained by the Washington Post.

In his draft report to the White House, submitted in August but only recently made public, Zinke recommended unspecified boundary changes to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments in Utah, the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, and the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon. The Interior secretary said he wants to ensure that areas designated as national monuments “be limited to the smallest area compatible with the acre and management of the objects to be protected.”

Environmental and conservation groups were quick to criticize the plans, which they have suggested could be illegal.

“Secretary Zinke’s proposal threatens the very idea of shared public spaces open to all. Leaving the protection of Native American sacred sites, outdoor recreation destinations, and natural wonders to the goodwill of polluting industries is a recipe for disaster,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said late Sunday in a statement. “Secretary Zinke has just sold out public lands and all the people who rely on them.”

Trump signed an executive order in April directing the Department of the Interior to review two decades’ worth of national monument designations in an effort to decide whether to rescind, modify, or maintain their designations. The review encompassed 21 monuments, mostly located in the Western United States.

In August, the department released a summary of the report, but the summary did not detail what changes, if any, Zinke recommended for the national monuments that were under review. At the time, news reports indicated Zinke had been considering reducing Bears Ears to 160,000 acres from its current 1.35 million acres. The leaked report, published Sunday by the Washington Post, does not provide an exact size to which Zinke believed the Bears Ears national monument should be reduced from its current size.

In the report, Zinke notes that public comments received “were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments.” On the opposing side, though, comments called for “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 fishing, and motorized recreation,” Zinke writes.

Zinke’s recommendations represent the largest attack on “protected public lands” in U.S. history and “would open up huge swaths of protected lands to drilling and mining speculators and other special interests,” League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski said Monday in a statement.

“President Trump should throw these recommendations in the trash and end his administration’s unprecedented assault on lands and waters that drive our outdoor recreation economy, preserve our cultural heritage, and conserve critical wildlife habitat,” Karpinski said.

In the report, Zinke also recommended changes in uses or management of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine; the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, off New England; the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico; and the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument in New Mexico. The report also called for changes in use or boundary modifications of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) accused Zinke of submitting the memo to the president “in the middle of the night because he knows his plan to hack away at monuments like Gold Butte is an overreach opposed by the majority of Americans.”

Titus said opponents of the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, designated by President Barack Obama last December, have created a straw man argument about water rights without mentioning that the monument’s proclamation includes language to protect them. “Now we must recommit our effort to protect these precious public lands in the courts and send a strong message to Zinke and Trump to keep their hands off our monuments,” the congresswoman said Monday in a statement.

During the 120-day review, Zinke visited eight of the 27 national monuments under review, traveling to six states. The Trump administration is now reviewing the recommendations and has not reached a final decision on them.

The Natural Resources Defense Council believes the Trump administration is using a classic negotiating tactic in its review of national monuments: threatening the worst and spinning the ultimate outcome, however outrageous, as a reasonable result.

“At the close of the review, Secretary Zinke announced that he would not recommend the complete revocation of any national monument — one of the worst case scenarios,” Kabir Green, senior advocate for the land and wildlife program at NRDC, wrote in a blog post. “But published reports indicated that the Secretary recommended substantial reductions in three national monuments: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah, and Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon. With rescission off the table, many press reports bought the administration’s narrative that it was being measured — even magnanimous — in its treatment of our public lands.”

As instructed by Trump, Zinke released an interim report in June on the Bears Ears National Monument, recommending the administration significantly reduce the size of the monument. Utah’s congressional delegation strongly supports either rescinding or modifying the Bears Ears National monument designation.

Native American groups, however, oppose any changes to the size of Bears Ears. Tribes spent decades trying to get the federal government to protect their historic lands in Utah from desecration and abuse. Their hard work finally paid off when President Barack Obama last year agreed to turn 1.35 million acres of land in the southeastern part of the state into the new Bears Ears National Monument.

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