Trump admin may be planning 90% cut to Bears Ears National Monument

  • Published on August 25th, 2017

Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke handed over his recommendations for changing national monuments to Pr*sident Donald Trump Thursday afternoon. The secretary announced that none of the 27 national monuments he reviewed would be rescinded, and only a “handful” would be reduced in acreage. This would allow mining and other activities prohibited by the national monument status. No details were provided to the public, but Zinke did release a two-page summary of his review of the monuments, which Trump ordered in April.

By Meteor Blades

Jay Michaelson takes note of one item in that summary:

“No President should use the authority under the 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,” it says at one point.

That is a predictably, but ominously, narrow interpretation of the Antiquities Act. If the only areas that may be protected are those necessary to protect a specific historical object, then you could log an entire forest right up to the object’s boundaries. Or dig a mine right next to it. Or pollute a river that runs right beside it.

In an attempt to pierce the secrecy, The New York Times conducted interviews Thursday with congressional aides and others who have been briefed on the report. They said Zinke has recommended that four national monuments be reduced in size. Only two were named.

They are Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both in southern Utah and both the target of state politicians, developers, and extractive industrialists who have bitterly complained that protecting these monuments locks up too much land that they believe should be under state control, harms the local economy, and is the product of presidential overreach. The Washington Post pointed out that Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon is also on the block to be reduced.

The 111-year-old Antiquities Act authorizes the president to designate national monuments, and most have done so since President Theodore Roosevelt got Congress to pass the act. It was, for example, Roosevelt’s 1908 action in this regard that kept the Grand Canyon from being mined and otherwise exploited. Currently, there are 129 national monuments. More than that were designated, but some had their status upgraded by Congress. The Grand Canyon, for instance, was made a national park in 1919.

Julie Turkewitz and Lisa Friedman report:

Environmentalists, ranchers, tribal governments and Western lawmakers had been watching closely to see if Mr. Zinke would propose changing the borders of the Bears Ears National Monument, which President Barack Obama established at the end of his term, and other scenic and historic areas under federal protection.

In recent days, Mr. Zinke had been considering a dramatic reduction to Bears Ears, to approximately 160,000 acres from 1.35 million, according to multiple people familiar with the process.

No president has ever reduced a monument by such a large amount.

A White House spokesman said Trump wants to study Zinke’s report more before making any announcements about changes. Whether the president can reduce the size of a national monument unilaterally the way one can be designated has not been fully tested in the courts. And if Trump actually tries to do so, especially if he were to try to chop 90 percent of Bears Ears the way Zinke reportedly wants, litigation all the way to the Supreme Court is guaranteed.

Among the foes of the move to reduce Bears Ears are the five American Indian tribes that were a key part of the coalition that worked for years to get it designated as a monument, something that President Obama did last year in his final full month in office. The tribes, whose ancestors lived in the area for millennia before Europeans arrived, had sought a much larger monument encompassing 1.9 million acres. The monument includes more than 100,000 archeological sites associated with the indigenous past.

The Times quotes Charles Wilkinson, a professor of public land law who advises to the tribes, that a decision to whack most of the designated land out of Bears Ears would be “an attack on a significant part of the foundation of American conservation law. We have our complaint already ready to file.”

Mark Hand at ThinkProgress writes:

The Western Values Project filed an expedited Freedom of Information Act request with the Interior Department on Thursday seeking information on the monument review that was submitted to the White House. “If Secretary Zinke wants to redraw the maps for millions of acres of public land, he should at least be transparent and honest with the Western communities who will be impacted by his actions,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project.

Saeger said it is a “farce for him to claim this review is about public input, while hiding the recommendations he’s made to President Trump on behalf of the American people.” Zinke is opening the door for “special interests to run the show on Western public lands” and “has sold out his Montana values and handed over the reins to lobbyists and Washington, D.C. insiders.” Zinke served as Montana’s only member of the U.S. House of Representatives prior to be named Interior secretary.

Until the White House makes the review public and announces whether to act on Zinke’s recommendations, however, any legal action will have to wait.

National monuments aren’t the only public lands whose protections are under assault by the Trump regime. Prohibitingthe National Park Service to advise on matters like development projects or hunting bears and wolves on Alaska wildlife reserves as well as prioritizing oil and gas development in conservation areas are just a few of the Interior Department’s moves to remove the shields that guard against private exploitation of public lands.

(Originally appeared at DailyKos. Image CC by BLM on Flickr.)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.