In a memorandum dated June 10, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recommended that Pres. Trump shrink the size of Bears Ears National Monument, which was established by Pres. Obama under the Antiquities Act during his final days in office.
Zinke’s memo reads, “The [Antiquities] Act authorizes the President to designate objects of scientific or historic interest on Federal lands for protection as a monument is defined in the establishing proclamation, but the authority to reserve lands as part of a monument is limited to an area that is `the smallest area compatible’ with the proper care and management of those objects. The protection of qualifying objects within the monument can be identified and reasonably segregated to reflect the `smallest area compatible’ intent and to concentrate preservation resources.
“Therefore, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of the Interior recommends that (1) the existing boundary of the BENM be modified to be consistent with the intent of the Act; (2) Congress authorize tribal co-management of designated cultural areas; (3) Congress designate selected areas within the existing BENM as national recreation areas or national conservation areas, as defined by law; and (4) Congress clarify the intent of the management practices of wilderness or Wilderness Study Areas within a monument.”
The Zinke memo does not specify how much land he recommends be eliminated from the BENM, or which sites he is recommending be saved within its borders.
Another national monument Pres. Trump is considering reducing in size is the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Zinke memo does not mention anything about GSENM.
The news was met with concern and outrage from conservation groups.
“This is an undeniable attack on our national monuments and America’s public lands,” wrote Jesse Prentice-Dunn, advocacy cirector for the Center for Western Priorities, a wilderness advocacy group based in Denver Colo.
In May, Zinke toured parts of Bears Ears National Monument and parts of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as part of an initiative from Trump to determine if 27 current national monuments should be rescinded or shrunk.
At the same time, the Interior Department opened a 15-day public comment period at regulations.gov where citizens could submit comments regarding their support for or against preserving, shrinking or doing away with the monuments under consideration.
According to the Center for Western Priorities, more than 1 million people visited the site and filed comments. Ninety-six percent of the comments posted on regulations.gov were in favor of maintaining the national monuments without change. Ninety percent of Utahns who made comments to regulations.gov said they wanted to keep Bears Ears National Monument, telling Trump and Zinke to please leave our national monuments alone, said Prentice-Dunn.
Though Zinke is recommending that parts of BENM be reduced, it’s not clear if Trump has the authority to do so. The Antiquities Act of 1906, signed by Pres. Teddy Roosevelt, gives the president the authority to create, but not rescind or modify a national monument. Since passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906 no president has attempted to rescind or reduce a national monument.
But the act does include a provision where Congress can reduce or rescind a national monument.
If the Trump Administration or Congress moves to rescind or reduce BENM, several conservation groups and five Native American tribes have stated they’ll challenge the action in court.