Interior Secretary Recommends Changing National Monument Designations

By Melanie Arter | August 25, 2017 | 12:27 PM EDT

 Secretary Ryan Zinke at Glacier National Park, Montana where he spoke with the Park's staff. (Photo courtesy of Interior Department website)

( - Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent his recommendations to the White House on Thursday on what national monument designations should be eliminated or shrunk, including those put in place by the Obama administration.

“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,” Zinke said in a statement.

The actual report was not released to the public, a fact that the Sierra Club took issue with. It filed a Freedom of Information Act seeking specific details on Zinke’s recommendations.

“Secretary Zinke’s slapdash summary report on his recommendations for the future of some of the country’s most spectacular and important public lands is deeply disturbing. The only real information conveyed in the report was Zinke’s willingness to sweep aside overwhelming support for preserving public land safeguards. We won’t be hustled. The truth is in the details, which is what we plan to find out with this request,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement on Friday.

Zinke told the Associated Press that he was making changes to a “handful” of national monument sites as well as boundary adjustments. He said some sites were too large, like Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order - Presidential Executive Order on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act - on April 26, ordering Zinke to review all national monument designations to determine whether those lands have been “appropriately classified” under the Antiquities Act.

“The Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) shall conduct a review of all Presidential designations or expansions of designations under the Antiquities Act made since January 1, 1996, where the designation covers more than 100,000 acres, where the designation after expansion covers more than 100,000 acres, or where the Secretary determines that the designation or expansion was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders, to determine whether each designation or expansion conforms to the policy set forth in section 1 of this order,” the executive order stated.

“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 a report summary on his recommendations, Zinke said that only Congress “has the authority to make protective land designations,” not the president.

“The responsibility of protecting America's public lands and unique antiquities should not be taken lightly; nor should the authority and the power granted to a President under the Act,” Zinke said in the report summary.

“It is Congress and not the President that has the authority to make protective land designations outside of the narrow scope of the Act, and only Congress retains the authority to enact designations such as national parks, wilderness, and national conservation and recreation areas. The executive power under the Act is not a substitute for a lack of congressional action on protective land designations,” the report summary stated.

The report summary said President Donald Trump “was correct” in calling on Zinke to review all monuments designated from 1996 to the present that are 100,000 acres or greater in size or were made without adequate public consultation.

“This is far from the first time an examination of scope of monuments has been conducted.  Existing monuments have been modified by successive Presidents in the past, including 18 reductions in the size of monuments, and there is no doubt that President Trump has the authority to review and consider recommendations to modify or add a monument,” Zinke said in the summary.

“The review found that each monument was unique in terms of the object(s) used for justification, proclamation language, history, management plans, economic impact, and local support. Adherence to the Act’s definition of an ‘object’  and ‘smallest area compatible’ clause on some monuments were either arbitrary or likely politically motivated or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource management,” the report summary said.

“Despite the apparent lack of adherence to the purpose of the Act, some monuments reflect a long public debate process and are largely settled and strongly supported by the local community,” it stated.

“Other monuments remain controversial and contain significant private property within the identified external boundary or overlap with other Federal land designations such as national forests, Wilderness Study Areas, and lands specifically set aside by Congress for timber production,” Zinke said in the summary.

Zinke had already announced in July and August that he was recommending no changes to the designations of six existing national monuments: the Sand to Snow National Monument in Southern California, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona, Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado, and Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho and Hanford Reach National Monument in  Washington.

Zinke closed the formal comment period on national monument designations on July 10.

“Too often under previous administrations, decisions were made in the Washington, D.C., bubble, far removed from the local residents who actually work the land and have to live with the consequences of D.C.’s actions. This monument review is the exact opposite,” Zinke said in July.

“President Trump and I opened the formal public comment period – the first-ever for monuments designated under the Antiquities Act – in order to give local stakeholders a voice in the decision-making process,” he said.

“After hearing some feedback, I'd like to remind and reassure folks that even if a monument is modified, the land will remain under federal ownership. I am strictly opposed to the sale or transfer of our public lands, and nothing in this review changes that policy,” Zinke added. “These comments, in addition to the extensive on-the-ground tours of monuments and meetings with stakeholders, will help inform my recommendations on the monuments.”

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