Mystery monument plan will be challenged

If you’re going to run roughshod over public opinion, why bother doing it transparently?

That seems to be the underlying message of the way the Trump administration has conducted a review of America’s national monuments.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke concluded his 120-day review of 27 monuments and forwarded his recommendations to President Donald Trump on Thursday. The plan wasn’t made public, but Zinke told the Associated Press that it doesn’t include eliminating any monuments. It does, however, recommend the president make changes to “a handful.”

Zinke has already revealed publicly that his plan would downsize Utah’s Bears Ears monument substantially. Communities in the vicinity of other monuments on the list can only wait and wonder whether they’ll face a similar fate.

There’s little comfort in the news that no monuments were altogether eliminated. The review still represents an unprecedented effort to roll back protections on federal land — and the first attempt to reduce the size of a monument in modern times. Conservation groups, tribes, outdoor recreation groups and some state attorneys general have vowed to fight any changes.

“Keeping the public in the dark on the actual recommendations speaks volumes about the poor quality and lack of transparency that has characterized the entire process,” said Scott Braden, the Grand Junction-based wilderness and public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado.

We concur that the lack of specifics is troublesome on an issue this weighty. Some 2.7 million people have sent comments to the department, more than 90 percent of them urging it not to ease protections. Recommendations this anticipated should be released immediately if the department is going to tout the transparent process it claims to have undertaken.

Still, there’s no choice but to take a wait-and-see stance. Whatever the recommendations consist of, they’re going to be challenged legally should the president attempt to implement them.

The administration’s approach to this issue is that some previous presidents failed to follow a provision of the 1906 Antiquities Act limiting national monument designations to the smallest amount of land needed to preserve historic artifacts and special landscapes.

If the Trump administration prevails in undermining a previous president’s legacy — even within the narrowest parameters of only changing boundaries — it makes any monument susceptible to tinkering. That should be a concern to any community like ours that derives great benefits from a neighboring monument.

It also begs the question, why have an Antiquities Act at all if the protections can be undone by a future president?


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