Monday, September 11, 2017
By Mark Carter
Public lands and their future remain a hot topic, especially out West, after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke concluded a review of all national monument designations since 1996.
The move, mandated by President Trump, sparked concern among many organizations representing hunters and sportsmen who fear potential loss of access to public lands or even a future transfer of ownership by the federal government to states. Zinke's recently released recommedations included the reduction of three national monuments in Utah and Colorado.
One prominent group, however, is publicly supporting the review process.
The Boone and Crockett Club believes the review process will ensure that hunting access is not overly restricted. It is concerned that President Obama's designation of 1.3 million acres in Utah for the Bears Ears National Monument in December 2016 encompasses an unecessarily large tract of land and therefore goes against the intent of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which empowers the executive branch to make such designations.
The club, founded in 1887, played an instrumental role in passage of the act as well as in the launch of the conservation movement in America.
Many hunters and sportsmen fear a new approach to federal management of public lands in the Trump administration will lead to loss of access. Also, momentum to transfer ownership of Western public lands to states has seen several spikes in recent years, and Trump has not inspired confidence in public lands advocates that such a move won't ultimately be attempted.
They see Zinke's recommendations as a potential threat to hunting.
But Boone and Crockett believes timely reviews of designations will help "ensure accountability, demonstrating that benefit to the public and wildlife is actually being accomplished properly."
The club's official statement notes the Antiquities Act intent of protecting historical landmarks and lands of scientific interest and insists that designations shouldn't limit land management practices, access to public lands or how they are used.
"Significant concerns have been raised by hunters and other sportsmen regarding the newly designated National Monuments that justified a thorough review of them," said Paul Phillips, co-chairman of the club's Conservation Policy Committee, in the statement. "Unfortunately, some have chosen to level direct and personal attacks toward Secretary Zinke and we wonder why. If nothing else, these reviews may identify best practices, which will guide future actions. Such reviews can actually result in better conservation, especially for wildlife, and opportunities for the public to enjoy them. We appreciate Secretary Zinke's review and look forward to learning about the findings."
The findings have yet to be made public, another point of contention.
Part of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. (UPR)
The club believes monument designations without provisions for public access lead to a loss of conservation value and that any current changes proposed by the Trump administration will not alter the ownership status of public lands or change the laws governing their management.
"National monuments have not always been good for sportsmen and wildlife, and should be reviewed," said James Cummins, B&C policy committee co-chair. "Declaring land as national monuments can appear as a conservation success, but only on paper. What actually makes for a true conservation success is a combination of active management on the land and the appreciation the public gets by visiting the land."
Various environmental and outdoors groups have promised lawsuits if Zinke's recommendations are carried out. Stay tuned.