President Trump is taking on national monuments with his latest executive order. Veuer explains.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending a scale-back of a national monument in Utah created in December by President Barack Obama and backed by a coalition of Native American tribes.
In a conference call, Zinke described a desire to narrow the protections around Bears Ears National Monument, which covers 1.4 million acres of sparsely populated lands in southeastern Utah, but tasked Congress with sorting out many of the details.
The secretary stressed that he thinks the monument should continue to be co-managed by the tribal nations but argued it should “be right-sized.”
Three of the five tribes that co-manage the monument and pushed for its creation also have lands in Arizona — the Hopi, Navajo and Zuni.
“There is no doubt that it is drop-dead gorgeous country and that it merits some degree of protection, Zinke said. “But designating a monument that, including state land, encompasses almost 1.5 million acres where multiple-use management is hindered or prohibited is not the best use of the land and is not in accordance with the intention of the Antiquities Act.”
Trump order laid groundwork
The remarks follow an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in April that called for two dozen national monuments to be reviewed by the current administration.
The public comment period of the Bears Ears monument review has been extended through July 10, with those interested able to chime in at regulations.gov.
Any attempts to rescind or diminish any monument is likely to spark a heated legal battle over whether the executive branch has the right to do so.
The five Native American tribes have vowed to sue if necessary to protect sacred lands, and a collection of conservation groups and others have made similar commitments.
Zinke declined to estimate how much of the monument could be changed, saying any amendments to the boundaries would depend at least in part on Congress. As part of his recommendation, he urged Congress to revisit existing laws about how wilderness areas and recreation areas should be managed within a monument.
Utah lawmakers applaud move
Utah lawmakers were celebrating the news Monday, with Rep. Jason Chaffetz calling Zinke’s report an important first step in undoing the “gross abuse” of the Antiquities Act.
“A locally-driven, legislative approach is the best way to strike a balance among the people who love and use the vast acreage surrounding the Bears Ears,” he said.
Zinke, formerly a Republican congressman from Montana, spent four days in May visiting the monument and meeting with stakeholders as he began a review of Bears Ears and the neighboring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Status of Arizona monuments still in limbo
Trump’s order included every monument of more than 100,000 acres designated in the last two decades, spanning the decisions of three past presidents.
Four national monuments in Arizona, covering almost 2 million acres, are affected:
- Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, 1 million acres, north of the Grand Canyon.
- Ironwood Forest National Monument, 128,917 acres, northwest of Tucson.
- Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, 279,568 acres, north of the Grand Canyon.
- Sonoran Desert National Monument, southwest of Phoenix, 486,146 acres.
All four were created by President Bill Clinton in 2000 and 2001.
But Utah has been ground zero for the review, with Bears Ears the most recent and the most controversial.
A coalition of tribal leaders, conservation groups, archaeologists and others pushed for the Bears Ears designation, which originally encompassed a larger area of about 1.8 million acres.
The monument was created only after decades of negotiations and discussions, and after members of Congress were given time to come up with a legislative solution.
Advocates see ‘slap in face’
Advocates who want the monument to remain as created argued Monday that chopping up the monument to make room for mining, energy development other uses would permanently damage a national treasure.
Randi Spivak, public lands program director with the Center for Biological Diversity, called Zinke’s recommendation a “slap in the face” to the tribes that sought protection for the Bears Ears area.
“Sadly, this is yet another corrupt process from the Trump administration that ignores public sentiment and rewards polluting industries that view our public lands as simply another source of profit,” Spivak said.
The Antiquities Act, signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, gives the president broad power to establish national monuments as a way to protect federal land that contains “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”
What does the act allow?
Many U.S. national parks started as national monuments. There are more than 129 monuments across the country.
A monument designation prevents new mining and drilling operations, and can curtail logging, grazing, road building, recreation and other uses, depending on management rules set up upon designation.
The Antiquities Act has no direct language giving presidents the power to rescind designations made by their predecessors, although some legal experts argue Trump could have an implied power to rescind or diminish any monument.
Others argue there are no implied powers in the Antiquities Act, since it deals with public lands, over which only Congress was given Constitutional authority.
A report by the Congressional Research Service published in November found legal analyses going back to the 1930s concluding the president has no power to repeal a past designation.
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