WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2017 - Praise and criticism greeted a report delivered to the White House yesterday recommending changes to the boundaries of a “handful” of national monuments.
The report prepared by the Interior Department is the result of a review led by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was directed to do so by President Trump in an executive order issued in April.
In the order, Trump said that monuments designated without proper public outreach or coordination with states and local stakeholders might stifle efforts to achieve “energy independence, restrict public access “and otherwise curtail economic growth.”
The full report was not released, and the summary posted online by Interior did not reveal specific recommendations. Zinke told the Associated Press that he was recommending changes at a “handful” of the 27 monuments reviewed, but would not say which ones. He has previously said that the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is too large.
The Washington Post reported that the Interior review recommends reducing the size of Bears Ears, as well as the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, also in Utah, and the 113,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in northern California and southern Oregon. The New York Times also said that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase are on the chopping block, along with two other monuments, which the newspaper did not name.
“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 in releasing the report. “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.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council said they were “encouraged” by the report’s release.
“It is clear that presidents have repeatedly abused their authority under the Antiquities Act, locking up over 250 million acres of land and water without local input or economic analysis,” PLC Executive Director Ethan Lane said in a statement. “We are grateful to Secretary Zinke and his team for soliciting feedback from those most affected by executive land-grabs, and look forward to swift action from the White House in response to the recommendations that aligns with the original intent of the Antiquities Act."
In a brief interview with Agri-Pulse, Lane said “I get the distinct impression that the secretary and his team have done a very thorough review.”
The three monuments cited in published reports as potentially subject to reductions were all mentioned by NCBA/PLC in comments the groups submitted on the review. In Grand Staircase, for example, livestock grazing has been “drastically reduced within the monument boundaries from 106,000 (animal unit months) in 1996 to only 35,000 AUMs today,” driving some ranchers out of business, they said.
President Obama’s expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou monument also came in for criticism from NCBA/PLC. “Originally designated in 2000 by President Clinton, the monument was expanded under President Obama, resulting in five ranchers being kicked off their historic grazing allotments,” the groups said. “The enlargement was entirely unnecessary and caused irreparable damage to the ranching community nearby.”
Environmental groups and some Democrats on Capitol Hill blasted the review. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, said she was “deeply concerned that the Trump administration has recommended removing protections for some of our most cherished national monuments” and called it “totally unacceptable that the administration has refused to release the full report. These are public lands and the public has a right to know when their treasured monuments are on the chopping block.”
And Defenders of Wildlife’s president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, said Zinke was “ignoring millions of comments imploring the Trump administration to safeguard these lands and the wildlife living within their boundaries.”
In its summary of the report, the Interior Department acknowledged that the comments it received “were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments and demonstrated a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations.”
Monument 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,” Interior said.
“Opponents point to other cases where monument designation has resulted in reduced public access, road closures, hunting and fishing restrictions, multiple and confusing management plans, reduced grazing allotments and timber production, and pressure applied to private land owners encompassed by or adjacent to a monument to sell,” the department said.
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