Zinke: All 27 national monuments will remain; ‘handful’ will see boundary changes

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke previously announced there will be no changes to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana. (Tom Keith, Last Best News)

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told the Associated Press Thursday that he’s recommending that none of 27 national monuments under review by the Trump administration be eliminated.

But there will be changes to a “handful,” Zinke told AP reporter Matthew Brown.

Zinke, who is in Missoula to meet with wildfire managers along with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, said there are unspecified boundary adjustments for some monuments in his recommendations to President Donald Trump. None of the sites will revert to private ownership, he said, while public access for uses such as hunting, fishing or grazing will be maintained or restored.

Thursday was the deadline Trump set for reviewing 27 national monuments designated by presidents over the past four administrations. Zinke said none of the sites will be eliminated or removed from public ownership.

He did not provide specifics on the recommended changes, and wouldn’t say whether portions of some monuments will be opened to energy development.

“There’s an expectation we need to look out 100 years from now to keep the public land experience alive in this country,” Zinke told the Associated Press. “You can protect the monument by keeping public access to traditional uses.”

Later Thursday morning, the Department of Interior released a press statement, saying the monument review is complete and that Zinke has submitted a “draft report” to the president which included his “findings and recommendations.” Again, the specifics of those recommendations were not provided.

Instead, the Interior Department released a report summary that discusses Zinke’s thoughts on national monuments, their purpose and past designations.

“No president should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object,” said Zinke.“The recommendations I sent to the president on national monuments will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and also provide a much-needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses, and recreation.”

The summary went on: “The Act’s executive authority is under scrutiny as administrations have expanded both the size and scope of monument designations. Since 1996 alone, the Act has been used by the president 26 times to create monuments that are over 100,000 acres or more in size and have included private property within the identified external boundaries. While early monument designations focused more on geological formations, archaeological ruins, and areas of historical interest, a more recent and broad interpretation of what constitutes an “object of historic or scientific interest” has been extended to include landscape areas, biodiversity, and view sheds. Moreover, features such as World War II desert bombing craters and remoteness have been included in justifying proclamations.”

It continued:

“The review found that each monument was unique in terms of the object(s) used for justification, proclamation language, history, management plans, economic impact, and local support. Adherence to the Act’s definition of an “object” and “smallest area compatible” clause on some monuments was either arbitrary or likely politically motivated or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource management.

“Despite the apparent lack of adherence to the purpose of the Act, some monuments reflect a long public debate process and are largely settled and strongly supported by the local community. Other monuments remain controversial and contain significant private property within the identified external boundary or overlap with other federal land designations such as national forests, wilderness study areas, and lands specifically set aside by Congress for timber production.”

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In April, Trump directed Zinke to study 27 national monuments to gauge whether their size, boundaries and scope conform to parameters in the Antiquities Act. Trump believes past presidents have abused their discretion and designated monuments to protect public land from resource extraction, and as indicated in his remarks Thursday, Zinke agrees.

The review created a significant outcry from conservationists, who threatened to file lawsuits if Trump reduced the size of monuments or rescinded their designations.

In the report summary, Zinke said that the 2.4 million comments received by the Department of Interior since April were overwhelmingly against any alteration of the national monuments.

Those comments, he said, “demonstrated a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations.”

He went on to spend considerably more time in describing the minority’s support for redesignation or downsizing of the monuments:

“Opponents of monuments primarily supported rescinding or modifying the existing monuments to protect traditional multiple uses, and those most concerned were often local residents associated with industries such as grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and fishing, and motorized recreation. Opponents point to other cases where monument designation has resulted in reduced public access, road closures, hunting and fishing restrictions, multiple and confusing management plans, reduced grazing allotments and timber production, and pressure applied to private land owners encompassed by or adjacent to a monument to sell.”

Earlier this summer, Zinke announced there would be no changes at six national monuments. The secretary, formerly Montana’s sole member of the U.S. House, announced Aug. 3 that the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument would not be changed.

The secretary, formerly Montana’s sole member of the U.S. House, announced Aug. 3 that the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument would not be changed.

“The review of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument has concluded and I’m recommending to the president that no changes be made,” Zinke said then. “The monument is one of the only free-flowing areas of the Missouri that remains as Lewis and Clark saw it more than 200 years ago.”

On Thursday, he reiterated that those seven monuments will not be changed:

The following national monuments were removed from review prior to the August 24 deadline, the agency said:

However, Zinke had already recommended that Trump reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. That state’s Republican leadership lobbied hard for the reduction.

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Conservation groups were quick in denouncing Zinke’s decision on Thursday.

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski released the following statement:

“Secretary Zinke’s so-called review of parks and monuments has been a complete sham, with arbitrary criteria for ‘pardoning’ some national monuments while attacking others. This exercise was nothing more than a pretext for selling out our public lands and waters as a political favor to Big Oil and other special interests who want to pad their profits. We and millions of others across this country who cherish our majestic public lands and waters will fight these changes with everything we’ve got.

“Our public lands make America great. Closing off parks and monuments will mean less access for people to hike, fish, and camp, which hurts local economies that rely on tourism and outdoor recreation. It means risking the desecration of some of America’s most important archaeological treasures, including sites sacred to Native Americans.

“And it ignores the more than 2.7 million public comments submitted to the Department of the Interior by people across the country demanding that our public lands and waters remain fully protected, which represents more than 99 percent of the total number of comments received. Continuing to disregard overwhelming public opinion will only add to the crisis of governance and legitimacy that is rocking Donald Trump’s administration.”

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune issued this statement, while urging the secretary to release his full report, with its recommendations, to the public:

“Any recommendation from Secretary Zinke to shrink national monuments is hypocritical at best and ruinous at worst. Secretary Zinke claims to support public lands, but now we know he’s just one more Trump Administration stooge for polluting special interests.

“Whether the preservation of Native American sacred sites or a natural wonder of the world, public lands and waters are granted monument status for a reason. Stripping these places of that protection devalues the diverse history they preserve, the outdoor economy they support, and the future they offer.

“This misguided recommendation is yet another unpopular action from an unpopular administration — one they are too ashamed to make public. The American people deserve to know what Sec. Zinke, Trump and their friends in the dirty fuel industry plan to do with our public lands under the guise of this sham review.”