Friday, August 25, 2017

Interior secretary: Shrink 3 national monuments

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon (BLM photo)
"Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended Thursday that President Trump alter at least three national monuments established by his immediate predecessors, including two in Utah, a move expected to reshape federal land and water protections and certain to trigger major legal fights," Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears report for The Washington Post. Zinke recommends shrinking the footprint of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, as well as the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon. He also wants to change land management rules to allow fishing in sites off the coast of New England and Hawaii.

Zinke submitted the report after President Trump ordered him to examine 27 protected areas established by presidents Clinton, Obama, and George W. Bush under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The review was spurred by the Trump administration's desire to free up some federal lands for industries such as fishing and mining. Zinke said in a statement that the targeted monuments would still be federal land and protected under federal environmental regulations, but shrinking them to give industries access to choice parts of the land would 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 Post reports.

The best example of that is probably Bears Ears, a 1.35 million acre expanse in southeastern Utah that President Obama designated as a national monument in his last days in office. Archaeologists and nature fans pushed for its designation because it's one of the richest sources of dinosaur bones in the country. But mining companies want more access to it because it's also a rich source of uranium. The Daneros Uranium Mine already operates in Bears Ears, but the national monument designation prevented new mines from opening. That's a problem for the mine's owner, Energy Fuels, since it wants to expand the mine, Carolyn Gramling reports for Science magazine. Grand Staircase-Escalante is in the same boat: it has amazingly preserved prehistoric flora and fauna, but sits on big uranium and coal deposits.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, which Zinke had also recommended shrinking, is coveted by timber companies and ranchers for logging and grazing, The Associated Press reports. Ethan Lane, executive director of the public lands council at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, told the Post that "Quite frankly, previous administrations got a little too greedy" in making these lands off-limits for industry.
Zinke reviewed the highlighed areas along with marine sites off the
coast of New England and Hawaii. (Washington Post graphic)
Environmental groups plan to challenge any changes to the monuments in court, possibly referencing a U.S. attorney general's formal opinion in 1938 saying that the Antiquities Act allows presidents to establish monuments but doesn't give them the right to abolish them. The Post writes that "While Congress can alter national monuments easily through legislation, presidents have reduced their boundaries only on rare occasions." Woodrow Wilson, for example, reduced the size of Mount Olympus National Monument by almost half.

Zinke didn't recommend changes to all of the monuments he reviewed. "The administration plans to leave six designations in place: Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients; Idaho’s Craters of the Moon; Washington’s Hanford Reach; Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant; Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks; and California’s Sand to Snow. In each case, according to Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift, there was 'very little, to no, local opposition,'" the Post reports.

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