Published: Fri, August 25, 2017
Global | By Maureen Mccoy

US Interior Chief Recommends Changes on Some Protected Lands

US Interior Chief Recommends Changes on Some Protected Lands

The president directed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to study 27 national monuments and make sure they had been created with sufficient local input, and did not put up barriers to energy development and economic growth.

Alongside Bears Ears, another monument that's seen at risk of losing federal protections is the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in Utah.

The recommendations are on whether to shrink the land, get rid of national monument designations or maintain the land as is. Zinke said he isn't recommending that Trump do so, although Trump could overrule him.

Zinke also told the AP that he is not recommending any of the monuments, which are on federally owned land, be sold off, although he declined to say whether areas that could be removed from monument designation will be opened up for oil and gas drilling, coal mining, cattle grazing and other extractive uses that Trump has championed.

Designating millions of acres for scientific observation or sheltering rare species, they contend, is a "federal land grab" that ignores the wishes of local residents, although the lands already belonged to the government or were under federal control.

Conservationists and tribal leaders responded with alarm and distrust, demanding the full release of Zinke's recommendations and vowing to challenge attempts to shrink any monuments.

A spokeswoman at the Department of Interior in Washington D.C. said it will be up to the White House to release the specific recommendations for each monument.

Noel is among those who want economic activity like timber harvesting and mineral production on land where it is not now allowed because of monument rules.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the nation's chief executive the authority to create monuments but includes no provisions for eliminating such declarations by previous presidents.

Zinke told The Associated Press that unspecified boundary adjustments for some monuments designated over the past four decades will be included in the recommendations he planned to give President Donald Trump on Thursday.

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Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, called Zinke's review a pretext for "selling out our public lands and waters" to the oil industry and others.

Other sites that might see changes include the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument in the Utah desert, consisting of cliffs, canyons, natural arches and archaeological sites, including rock paintings; Katahdin Woods and Waters, 136 square miles of forest of northern ME; and Cascade Siskiyou, a 156-square-mile region where three mountain ranges converge in Oregon.

Berryessa Snow Mountain National MonumentA view of Lake Berryessa near Winters, CA in northern California Monday, December 29, 2014.

Zinke visited New Mexico last month, meeting with stakeholders and the public. During a two-month period of public comments, the Interior Department received more than 2.4 million comments - and an overwhelming majority was in favor of keeping the national monuments, according to the Center for Western Priorities.

The Mojave Trails National Monument protects a huge section of historic Route 66.

National outdoor retailer REI and other companies have also opposed changes to monuments.

Environmental groups said the 1906 Antiquities Act is meant to shield significant historical and archaeological sites, and that it allows presidents to create the monuments but only gives Congress the power to modify them.

Twenty-seven monuments have been under review.

Communities, including Taos, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces, have held rallies and special events to raise awareness about the review and demonstrate to Zinke the strong widespread support the monuments enjoy.

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