After four months of consideration, the Department of the Interior released a draft of its recommendations on whether 27 national monuments should retain their protected designation yesterday (August 24).
In the draft, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommends that the borders be reduced for at least four monuments. One is the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah that former President Barack Obama designated a national monument in December 2016. It contains cliff dwellings of the ancient Native Pueblo people and pictograph- and petroglyph-covered walls.
Per The New York Times, “Parts of this sprawling region of red-rock canyons and at least three other national monuments would lose their strict protection and could be reopened for new mining or drilling under proposals submitted to President Trump.” A White House official said in a statement cited in The Times that the president is currently reviewing Zinke’s report, but it is not clear if it will be released to the public.
In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order instructing Zinke to review the Antiquities Act and all national monument designations awarded after 1996 for areas that are at least 100,000 acres in size. In response, Zinke toured eight monuments and opened up an online public comment period which garnered 2.8 million responses.
The majority of the public comments were in favor of maintaining the existing monuments, according to National Geographic. Yet Utah state representative Republican Mike Noel told the Times that shrinking Bears Ears would be “a victory for our state,” saying, “When you turn the management over to the tree-huggers, the bird and bunny lovers and the rock lickers, you turn your heritage over.”
The Times reports that a coaltion of Native American activists do not agree:
Native American tribes in the Southwest, who lobbied for years to get the Bears Ears region designated a national monument, are expected to fight any move to reduce its size. Charles Wilkinson, a professor of public land law and an adviser to the tribes, said such a decision would be “an attack on a significant part of the foundation of American conservation law.”
“We have our complaint already ready to file,” he added.
Outdoor recreation and environmental groups are also expected to fight to preserve the monuments at their present sizes.
Any legal action to contest the site’s reduction would likely lead to a judicial interpretation of how much power the Antiquities Act grants presidents. Zinke’s report, says The Washington Post, “launches what will be a legal and political battle over a relatively obscure law that grants a president wide latitude in preserving federal lands and waters that are threatened.”