Tuesday, June 13, 2017
By Mark Carter
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended this week that the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be reduced in size, prompting backlash from outdoors groups who say the move portends future rollbacks of monument designations and potential loss of access to public land for hunters.
Bears Ears was designated a national monument by former President Obama in the final days of his administration. It was a controversial move criticized as executive overreach by conservatives; the designation encompasses roughly 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah and was made despite strong local opposition which included some Native American tribes.
The Antiquities Act under which such designations are made charges presidents with using the smallest area necessary when creating national monuments. Zinke, tasked by President Trump in April with reviewing 27 national monument designations to ensure they fall under the parameters set by the Antiquities Act, recommended a reduction in size of Bears Ears and suggested other reductions in size for other monuments.
His final report to Trump with official recommendations is due in August.
Outdoors groups rushed to condemn Zinke's interim report, which they believe could impact access to hunting on public land.
“Over the course of more than a century, the Antiquities Act has proven one of our most potent mechanisms for permanently conserving important fish and wildlife habitat and upholding traditional hunting and fishing opportunities on our public lands,” said Backcountry Hunters & Anglers CEO Land Tawney in a press release. “The recommendations made by Secretary Zinke, if adopted, would undermine the strength of the Antiquities Act, blunt a powerful conservation tool and diminish our national monuments system overall."
Zinke's interim report contained four direct recommendations, which presumably will be a part of his final report to Trump in August:
- The existing borders of Bears Ears should be modified to be consistent with the intent of the Antiquities Act;
- Congress should designate tribal co-management of designated cultural areas within the monument;
- Selected areas within the current monument shoud be designated by Congress as national recreation or conservation areas;
- Congress should clarify the intent of wilderness management practices within a designated monument.
“The goal is to protect the historic and prehistoric structures, no doubt," Zinke said on a conference call with reporters this week. "It’s a little premature to throw out acreage, but if you look at Bears Ears as a whole, there’s a lot more drop-dead gorgeous land than there is historic landmarks, prehistoric structures, and other objects."
Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
Zinke told reporters that two specific areas should remain national monuments: the Bears Ears geological formation itself and an area north of it that contains a “high density of archaeological sites.”
Precedent exists for a reduction of the Bears Ears monument, though it would represent the biggest in size by far. Past presidents have made small reductions to roughly 20 monuments before, none of which were challenged in court. Numerous environmental groups already have promised legal challenges to a Trump reduction of Bears Ears.
"If President Trump follows Secretary Zinke’s recommendation to shrink the boundaries of these cherished lands, we will see him in court,” said Heidi McIntosh, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, as reported in the Washington Times.
One outdoors group voiced its opposition to creation of the monument in December. Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife said the monument would take away local control and could actually lead to the prohibition of hunting.
"The creation of a national monument would severely threaten the expansion of wildlife and rehabilitation of healthy habitat that sportsmen and the state of Utah have invested millions of dollars building in recent decades," it said in a statement.
But many hunters see a national-monument reduction as a reduction in hunting access.
"Recently designated national monuments, such as Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, Berryessa Snow Mountain in California and Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana, provide important hunting and fishing opportunities and enjoy widespread support from hunters and anglers," wrote Katie McKalip for Backcountry.
Stay tuned; August is right around the corner. Meanwhile, read Zinke's interim report here.