According to a Washington Post article published Monday, Sept. 18, a leaked memo written by Ryan Zinke, Interior secretary, revealed more of his department’s findings regarding a review mandated by an executive order issued by President Trump in April. In addition to a report released in August in which Zinke urged the federal government to reduce the boundaries of four large national monuments, the leaked memo also recommended commercial fishing be permitted in protected waters of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The latest recommendations prompted an outcry from environmental groups who vowed to take the Trump administration to court to block commercial fishing and the boundary revisions. Zinke’s plan to shrink boundaries would scale back two large Utah monuments, Bears Ears and
Grand Staircase-Escalante, along with Nevada’s Gold Butte and the Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon.
The four monuments encompass more than 3.6 million acres (think all of the acreage of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks times four as being proposed to be removed from monument boundaries), and all were created by Democratic administrations under the 1906 Antiquities
Act that allows presidents to protect lands determined to have historic, geographical, or cultural significance.
Zinke’s plans call for allowing logging in a Maine monument and requests more grazing, hunting, and fishing at two New Mexico sites. Zinke is also calling for an assessment of border safety risks at another monument in New Mexico.
Bear’s Ears, in southeastern Utah, is a 1.3 million-acre monument designated for protection by President Obama in 2016. It contains sacred Navajo lands housing tens of thousands of archaeological sites including ancient cliff dwellings. Grand Staircase-Escalante, in southern Utah,
includes nearly 1.9 million acres preserving a sweeping vista and cultural landscape. There has been vocal opposition to the size of the Escalante monument ever since it was designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which reaches down into Northern California, protects 113,000 acres where three mountain ranges converge.
Gold Butte in Nevada protects 300,000 acres of desert landscape with rock art features, sandstone towers, and wildlife habitat for bighorn sheep and the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise.
Zinke noted that most of the public comments on the monuments review “were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments” but were the result of “a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations.” Opponents of the monuments tended to be local residents associated with grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and fishing, and motorized recreation, the memo stated.
Currently, there are no recommendations for changes that have been made public for the Giant Sequoia National Monument. The 328,000-acre monument in Tulare, Fresno, and Kern counties was created by President Clinton in April 2000.
There is no precedent for reductions or changing policies for uses in previously designated national monuments. It is likely if court challenges fail, it would take an act of Congress to implement the proposed reductions or reinstating commercial uses in the protected areas.