Interior head suggests reducing Bears Ears National Monument

Posted June 13, 2017

Following up on an executive order, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended President Donald Trump review the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which was created by former President Barack Obama.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended reducing the size of the 1.5-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah, drawing immediate criticism from Democrat and environmental groups who called his plan "nonsense". The administration's recommendations are directly against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans - and also in direct conflict with the Antiquities Act and the Wilderness Act - making a mockery of the claimed public process and the good faith of these recommendations.

Zinke said there are some antiquities within the monument that he believes deserve to be respected, but he thinks those drawings, archeological sites, etc. can be "reasonably separated" from the rest of the monument area.

The view from Comb Ridge in Utah's Bears Ears area of the Four Corners Region, Dec. 18, 2016.

Zinke also asked Congress to create alternate designations such as national conservation or recreation areas within what is now Bears Ears National Monument, and to clarify wilderness management practices within national monuments.

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Zinke did not specify how much he'd like to see the boundaries of the monument reduced, calling that premature. Examples would be labeling of some areas as National Recreation Areas and National Conservation Area, both of which carry less protection than the current Monument designation;Clarification of how Wilderness areas and Wilderness Study Areas are managed when they are within a monument.Zinke toured Bears Ears last month on foot, horseback and helicopter and met with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other state leaders.

Authorization by Congress to co-manage culturally significant lands within the new boundaries;The use of several different conservation designation for the areas now within Bears Ears. Trump ordered the review in April and decisions regarding other monuments are expected in August.

The review is likely to add fuel to a heated national debate over Washington's role in America's wildest spaces. The Mojave Desert Land Trust will continue to conduct its Desert Defenders campaign to collect public comments and rally local public support for the national monuments in light of the continued federal threats to their protection.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, representing oil and gas companies, said Zinke's approach was sensible.

But conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and The Sutherland Institute argue Trump has the authority to reduce national monuments, a practice that has occurred several times.

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But Congress has not proven their ability to pass legislation to protect Bears Ears.

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch was "encouraged" by the interim report and Zinke's recommendation.

If there was ever any ambiguity about how the general public felt about National Monuments before, this comment period has clarified the strong support Americans have for the Antiquities Act and the monuments it has created.

Under the Antiquities Act, which was created in 1906, the United States president has the unilateral power to declare tracts of land or ocean to be protected. This maneuver clearly exposes the actual motivation behind the review: to erode protections for these lands and open them up for extractive degradation and private profit.

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