Interior head suggests reducing Bears Ears National Monument

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended President Donald Trump "revise the existing boundaries" of the Bears Ears National Historic Monument and call on Congress to dictate the terms of how parts of the area should be managed.

Zinke said on a call with reporters Monday that rescinding Bears Ear's status "was an option", but that he believes there are "some antiquities within the monument that deserve protecting".

"Attempting to remove protections for public lands by diminishing a national monument would be unprecedented in the modern era and may jeopardize other monuments", said Corey Fisher, senior public policy director for Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen's Conservation Project.

"If you look at the Bears Ears as a whole, there's a lot more drop-dead gorgeous land than there are historic, prehistoric objects", the secretary said, adding that he could not provide a specific acreage estimate because it would depend on how Congress would draw the new lines.

Grijalva said Zinke's memo makes no mention of public comments on the property and does not "reference any maps or specify legislative language". Zinke will submit recommendations for the other national monuments in question and a final recommendation for Bears Ears on August 24. Zinke recommended that the new national monument in Utah be reduced in size and said Congress should step in to designate how selected areas of the 1.3 million-acre site are managed.

His recommendation to Trump set the tone for the administration's broader review, triggered by an executive order in April.

"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 nearly 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 a statement.

"The Trump administration's announcement today on Bears Ears is nothing less than an attack on the future of all American monuments, parks and public lands".

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The sun peeks around "Bears Ears #1" in the Bears Ears National Monument on May 11, 2017, outside Blanding, Utah.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, representing oil and gas companies, said Zinke's approach was sensible. Utah's Republican party supports multiple uses for the land, while environmentalists, Native Americans and the Outdoor Recreation industry support full protections.

"Despite months of rhetoric claiming his respect for Teddy Roosevelt's legacy of public lands protection, Secretary Zinke revealed he is just another politician looking to exploit and develop America's public lands at the expense of our children and grandchildren".

On the other side, Utah's Congressional delegation and state officials, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, maintain Bears Ears was a federal land grab in a region where federal government land management already impinges on state sovereignty.

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch was "encouraged" by the interim report and Zinke's recommendation.

The original decision to protect Bears Ears was made to combat the growing cases of vandalism and theft to the area's archaeological sites, which number over 100,000.

If there was ever any ambiguity about how the general public felt about National Monuments before, this comment period has clarified the strong support Americans have for the Antiquities Act and the monuments it has created.

  • Myrtle Hill