Zinke says he will not eliminate any national monuments

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WASHINGTON(CNN)-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will not recommend eliminating any national monuments following a review ordered by President Donald Trump, but changes to boundaries that could open up federal lands to energy production remain possible.

In his report, Zinke said he is recommending changes to a “handful” of monuments.

At Trump’s direction, Zinke earlier this year launched a review of 27 national monuments, a controversial move that could undo protections for millions of acres of federal lands, as well as limits on oil and gas or other energy production.

Zinke has since offered a reprieve to six of those monuments, announcing he would recommend those lands remain protected.

Environmentalists have railed against the review and plan legal challenges to any planned changes to monument boundaries.

“Zinke’s sham review was rigged from the beginning to open up more public lands to fossil fuel, mining and timber industries,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “He and Trump will not be allowed to rob Americans of their public lands. Any effort to change national monument boundaries or reduce protections will be challenged.”

National outdoor retailer REI and other companies have also opposed changes to monuments. REI urged customers in an email campaign to “tell Secretary Ryan Zinke why our public lands need to remain protected now and for future generations.”

“Our country’s public lands define who we are. These are the places where we work, where we play and where we connect to our shared history — and today, some of these places are in jeopardy,” the note read.

Focus on Bears Ears

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah has been the primary focus of the debate.

President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears as a national monument in December, less than a month before leaving office, bestowing strict federal protections to the 1.3-million-acre stretch of land in southeastern Utah that is home to ancient cliff dwellings and other land sacred to five Native American tribes.

While the decision drew praise from Native American leaders and environmentalists, it was also met with fierce criticism from Republicans in the state who slammed the move as a federal overreach.

Zinke trekked to Bears Ears in May to tour the national monument and meet with stakeholders on both sides of the issue and a month later he issued interim recommendations.

As part of an expedited review, Zinke recommended in an interim report earlier this year that Trump revise the Bears Ears boundaries.

“The Bears Ears National Monument contains some objects that are appropriate for protection under the act,” Zinke wrote in the interim report, referring to rock art and sacred Native American sites. “However, having conducted the review … I find that the Bears Ears National Monument does not fully conform with the policies set forth” in Trump’s executive order.

Utah lawmakers responded following Secretary Zinke’s official recommendation:

Governor Gary Herbert: 

I appreciate Secretary Zinke’s thorough review of uses of the Antiquities Act in Utah that I believe exceed the narrow scope of the Act. I am heartened by the secretary’s recognition that Congress, rather than the president, has the authority to enact protections beyond the parameters of the Antiquities Act and that such presidential designations cannot substitute for legislation.
Both the secretary and I have been exceedingly clear that if there is a change to monument boundaries, all affected federal public land will remain an integral part of our national heritage and trust under federal ownership.
It is my hope that the president will carefully study the secretary’s recommendations to narrow the application of the Antiquities Act. If the president decides to modify current monuments, I trust the stakeholders in our public land debates will work with Congress in good faith to pass legislation to clarify controversial public land use regulations.
It is my conviction that working together we can protect Utah’s iconic landscapes for us and future generations, give to Native Americans meaningful co-management that they currently do not have over lands that have been part of their sacred heritage, and provide access to sustainable recreational activities, all while honoring the BLM charter’s important principle of multiple use.

Senator Orrin Hatch: 

“What we have seen throughout the monument review process is a concerted effort to give the people of Utah a voice in the protection of Utah lands. While Utah’s national monuments are a prime example of Antiquities Act Abuse, President Trump and Secretary Zinke are working to correct those past abuses and focus on the original meaning and intent of the law. I appreciate Secretary Zinke’s thorough and thoughtful review, and the efforts he made to ensure relevant stakeholders, particularly those in San Juan, Kane, and Garfield Counties, had an opportunity to be heard. I look forward to assisting in every way possible as additional details about the future of Utah’s monuments are made public.”
Senator Mike Lee: 

“Sec. Zinke has done a fantastic job reaching out and listening to the local communities most affected by these monument designations,” Sen. Lee said. “His conclusion that ‘some monuments were either arbitrary or likely politically motivated’ is spot on.  I look forward to working with President Trump to ensure these abuses of federal power are rectified.”

Representative Rob Bishop:

“I am encouraged by the recommendations to revise previous designations that were inconsistent with the law and outside the Act’s size limitations. It is my hope that President Trump takes this opportunity to begin realigning uses of the law with its intended purpose. It’s also incumbent on Congress to pursue reforms to the Act that ensure it is being used to protect antiquities while providing meaningful local input in the designation process and reasonable continued public access to these iconic areas. Ultimately, only Congress can restore integrity to this law and prevent future abuses.”

CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and Dan Merica contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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