Interior chief urges shrinking four large national monuments

WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending that four large national monuments in the West be reduced in size, potentially opening up hundreds of thousands of acres of land revered for natural beauty and historical significance to mining, logging and other development.

Zinke’s recommendation, revealed in a leaked memo submitted to the White House, prompted an outcry from environmental groups who promised to take the Trump administration to court to block the moves.

The Interior secretary’s plan would scale back two huge Utah monuments — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — along with Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou. The monuments encompass more than 3.6 million acres — an area larger than Connecticut — and were created by Democratic administrations under a century-old law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historic, geographically or culturally important.

Zinke’s plan also would allow logging at a newly designated monument in Maine and urges more grazing, hunting and fishing at two sites in New Mexico. It also calls for a new assessment of border-safety risks at a monument in southern New Mexico.

Bears Ears, designated for federal protection by former President Barack Obama, totals 1.3 million acres in southeastern Utah on land that is sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings. Grand Staircase-Escalante, in southern Utah, includes nearly 1.9 million acres in a sweeping vista larger than the state of Delaware. Republicans have howled over the monument since its creation in 1996 by former President Bill Clinton.

Cascade-Siskiyou, which juts into Northern California, protects about 113,000 acres in an area where three mountain ranges converge, while Gold Butte protects nearly 300,000 acres of desert landscapes that feature rock art, sandstone towers and wildlife habitat for bighorn sheep and the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the 19-page memo, which was submitted to the White House last month and has not been officially released.

Two marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean also would be reduced under Zinke’s memo, and a third monument off the Massachusetts coast would be modified to allow commercial fishing. Commercial fishing also would be allowed at two Pacific sites, west of Hawaii and near American Samoa.

President Donald Trump ordered a review of 27 sites earlier this year after complaining about a “massive land grab” by Obama and other former presidents.

“It’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we’re going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place. This should never have happened,” Trump said in ordering the review in April.

National monument designations add protections for lands known for their natural beauty with the goal of preserving them for future generations.

COMMENTS