Interior secretary: Bears Ears should be ‘right-sized’

Zinke likely to advise Trump to reduce current 1.3-million-acre monument

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended Monday that President Donald Trump reverse his predecessor and reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.

In an interim report that Trump ordered to review Antiquities Act designations since 1996, Zinke said the 1.3 million acres set aside for the monument before Obama left office last year needs to be “right-sized.”

“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 a statement.

His report drew immediate criticism, including from groups that questioned the legality of reversing a prior presidential action under the act and claimed the entire matter is more about politics, mineral development and money than anything else.

“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. “President Trump will still need to act on recommendations from the secretary. We hope that the president sees the folly in such an action and the harm it could cause to our public land legacy.”

Supporters of either rescinding the Bears Ears designation or scaling it back hailed Zinke’s report, saying it will help restore sound decision making on land-use issues in the area.

“This interim report is an important first step toward reestablishing sound land management practices for one of the most special areas in the world,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. “Throughout this process, Secretary Zinke has demonstrated the utmost respect for local and tribal input. I encourage the president to take this recommendation seriously, and I applaud the secretary for his balanced and responsible proposal.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, said he doesn’t believe the recommendation was respectable or responsible. He said Trump does not have the legal authority to reverse a prior Antiquities Act designation, saying he would fight any effort in Congress to alter the monument or the act.

“I do not believe that President Trump has the legal authority to rescind or shrink a monument,” Udall said. “If the administration moves forward with this plan, this decision will be challenged in court. And if they put this plan before Congress, I will fight him every step of the way.”

Udall also said Zinke didn’t adequately deal with the five tribes that share in management of the monument, saying the secretary was “disrespectful and insulting” to the tribes and all the work they did to get the land designated a monument.

Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation, said the tribes and federal officials spent more than six years discussing various ways to preserve the land, saying they turned to President Barack Obama only because Congress didn’t act on their recommendations.

“This is really about the preservation of our way of life as Navajo people,” she said. “The full landscape of the Bears Ears National Monument as designated by President Obama are essentially holy lands to us.”

Hillary Dessouky, general counsel for Patagonia, an outdoor sporting equipment company, said her employer, along with other environmental groups, would file suit should the president go along with Zinke’s recommendations.

Mark Squillace, professor of law at the University of Colorado, said such a lawsuit would be successful because the law is clear that the president has the ability to create or expand national monuments, but not to shrink them.

He said it wouldn’t be the first time a president has reversed a prior presidents’ actions since the act was enacted in 1906, but those changes weren’t challenged in court.

Squillace, however, said Congress does have the authority to alter the size of the monument, or get rid of it altogether, and to repeal or modify the Antiquities Act itself. He said there have been numerous bills in the past to do that — and there is a new one before Congress now — but they never go anywhere.

“I don’t think there is much chance of an amendment to the Antiquities Act passing at this time,” he said. “They would have to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, and unless the filibuster rules change, I think it is unlikely that the opponents of the Antiquities Act could muster the 60 votes to pass legislation that would significantly amend the law.”


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