But three western monuments reportedly targeted for shrinking
By Charlie Brennan
The Woodenshoe Canyon in Bears Ears National Monument is one of eight national monuments that are subject to a report with recommendations sent Thursday by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to the White House. (Jeff Mitton / Courtesy Photo)
Native American advocates, environmentalists and others watching Thursday for U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s recommended changes to several national monuments including Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument were surprised by an announcement scant on details of what he actually proposes.
A release from the Department of the Interior stated that a draft report on Zinke’s recommendations has been forwarded to the White House — but a report summary did not state what, if any, changes to the national monuments he envisions.
Several hours later, a Washington Post report based on multiple sources said Zinke had recommended shrinking Bears Ears as well as Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
The Department of Interior summary that was released certainly suggests that changes are being recommended, pointing out that “Since 1996 alone, the (Antiquities) Act has been used by the President 26 times to create monuments that are over 100,000 acres or more in size and have included private property within the identified external boundaries.”
It went on to state, “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. No President should use the authority under the 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 land.
Legal fight brewing
Zinke’s recommendations cap an unprecedented four-month review, stemming from a belief that the century-old Antiquities Act had been misused by past presidents to create oversized monuments that stymie energy development, grazing and other uses.
President Barack Obama infuriated Utah Republicans when he created the Bears Ears monument in southeastern Utah in late December on 1.3 million acres of mostly federal, state and private land that is sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.
Republicans had asked President Donald Trump to take the unusual step of reversing the designation, saying it will add another layer of unnecessary federal control and close the area to new energy development.
Matt Campbell, a staff attorney for the Boulder-based Native American Rights Fund, said in the wake of Thursday’s announcement, “Any attempt to modify or shrink Bears Ears is illegal under the Antiquities Act.
“So we would see that as an attack on Bears Ears and an attack on Indian Country and we would fight it through litigation. We don’t feel the president has the authority under the Antiquities Act to modify or shrink Bears Ears. Congress reserved that to itself.”
The Native American Rights Fund represents three of the five tribes that have united as the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition — the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. The other two tribes in the coalition are the Navajo Nation and the Ute Indian Tribe.
Campbell pointed out that a 45-day interim report on Zinke’s monuments review issued in June had not bode well for Bears Ears.
“There is no doubt that it is drop-dead gorgeous country and that it merits some degree of protection, 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,” Zinke said in June.
‘Play an important role’
The Denver-based Center for Western Priorities issued a statement blasting the decision not to make Zinke’s full report public on Thursday.
“More than 2.7 million Americans told Secretary Zinke what they think — the least he can do is return the favor. This secrecy shows the Trump administration knows their attack on national monuments is widely unpopular,” said a statement attributed to Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities.
That statement was elaborated upon by Aaron Weiss, media director for the Center for Western Priorities, who said the issue is of keen interest to Colorado environmentalists.
“The fact that Secretary Zinke early on took Canyon of the Ancients (in southwest Colorado) out of the running (for potential changes) shows he knows how politically stupid it would have been to consider going after Colorado monuments,” Weiss said.
Canyon of the Ancients is one of half dozen national monuments originally under consideration for changes, but which were removed from the review process.
The Durango-based Western Leaders Network issued a letter signed by 56 western states officials including all three Boulder County commissioners and Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones opposing the “dissolution, reduction or modification of national monuments and federally protected places.”
Late Thursday, the Boulder-based Nature Conservancy in Colorado reiterated its position that Bears Ears should remain as it is.
“National monuments and other public lands and waters play an important role in American society,” said Deputy Director Paige Lewis.
“They protect critical wildlife habitat, boost local economies, provide recreation opportunities and improve the health and well-being of the American people. Farming, ranching, forestry and fishing jobs need healthy lands and waters. And local communities and small businesses depend on robust recreation economies.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report