Interior Secretary Recommends Shrinking Six National Monuments

The Bears Ears National Monument was one of five sites designated by President Barack Obama under the federal Antiquities Act. (Photo by U.S. Bureau of Land Management via Courthouse News)

(CN) – A leaked memo shows that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that President Donald Trump shrink the boundaries of four national monuments, while altering how six others are managed.

Zinke’s long-awaited report, which the administration has refused to release, recommends shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, both in Utah, along with Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. The recommendations contain no specifics regarding the boundary alterations, merely saying “the boundary should be revised through the appropriate authority.”

Along with border alterations at the four monuments, Zinke recommended acceptable-use modifications at 6 monuments – including allowing commercial fishing at three marine national monuments.

Rose Atoll, Pacific Remote Island, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts marine national monuments would all be opened to commercial fishing operations should Trump adopt the recommendations by the Interior chief.

Finally, use-management changes are recommended for three more national monuments – Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande, both in New Mexico.

Zinke did not specify the precise nature of the management changes he is seeking, saying “the management plan should be revised to continue to protect objects and prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades, repair, and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.”

The memo received swift condemnation from environmental and conservation groups closely monitoring the monuments review process.

“If Trump does this, NRDC will sue,” Rhea Suh, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, tweeted Monday morning.

Suh and other environmentalists say the management changes Zinke recommends are really a cover for opening up public lands to natural resource extraction industries like timber, mining and oil and gas.

“We will not allow these special lands and waters to be handed over to private interests for drilling, commercial fishing, logging, and other extraction,” Suh said.

In his recommendation, Zinke does mention the economic harm rural communities reliant on logging, grazing and mining have endured with designations by several presidents dating back to 1996.

Zinke also makes the case in his memo that these presidents diverged from the original intent of the Antiquities Act – to preserve relics of the ancient cultures that inhabited the West – to something more environmentally conservationist.

“It appears that certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining and timber production rather than protect any specific objects,” Zinke said.

But opponents of altering the monuments point out that the public is overwhelmingly in favor of the use of the Antiquities Act in this manner, pointing to the more than 2.6 million comments submitted to the Interior Department in favor of keeping national monuments intact.

“Allowing commercial logging within the borders of the Katahdin Woods and Waters monument defies longstanding legal precedent and the will of Mainers throughout our state,” said Conservation Law Foundation Maine Director Sean Mahoney.

Zinke cast doubt on whether the overwhelming majority of comments in favor of keeping the monuments intact is truly a representative view of the general public, saying that those living in rural communities don’t have the organizing power of environmental groups.

“Too often, it is the local stakeholders who lack the organization, funding and institutional support to compete with well-funded NGOs,” Zinke wrote.

However, several of Zinke’s opponents point out that well-heeled natural resource extraction industries stand to benefit from Trump’s policies regarding public lands and that people would actually lose access if timber, mining, grazing and oil and gas were allowed to operate in areas currently marked for recreation.

“This callous proposal will needlessly punish local, predominantly rural communities that depend on parks and public lands for outdoor recreation, sustainable jobs and economic growth,” said Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams.

Zinke’s critics point to his recommendations for the three national marine monuments, which have little to do with public access, or rural community integrity, and more to opening up protected refuges so that industry may benefit.

“Our marine monument – the only one in the Atlantic – protects rare and fragile ocean life and serves as an important deep-sea laboratory that will propel forward our nation’s commitment to scientific understanding and innovation,” said Conservation Law Foundation senior counsel Peter Shelley. “We intend to continue to fight for full, comprehensive protection of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument on behalf of all New Englanders who rely on a healthy ocean.”

 

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