Tuesday, August 29, 2017
By Mark Carter
As expected, outdoors groups have begun the process of filing lawsuits against the federal government after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week sent recommendations to President Trump concerning the status of selected national monuments.
While those recommendations have yet to made public, Zinke had previously said they likely would include reductions in the size of several national monuments. The Washington Times reported Sunday that Zinke recommended size reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon.
Hunters and outdoors groups have voiced concern over potential lost access to public land that could come with reductions in size or status changes to any national monument.
In its report, National Monuments: A Sportsmen's Perspective, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers makes the case from a hunting perspective for national monuments and outlines the "sportsmen's tenets for new monuments:"
When used properly, the Antiquities Act has given us the opportunity to maintain some of the world’s best public hunting and fishing by conserving large and vitally important landscapes that could have been lost or diminished without it.
Trump believes past presidents, specifically Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, abused the authority granted them under the Antiquities Act, which empowers presidents to designate national monuments. He believes the monuments, some encompassing millions of acres, are too big. Zinke reportedly agrees with him regarding at least three of them.
“No President should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object,” Zinke said in a statement issued last week. “The recommendations I sent to the president on national monuments will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and 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.”
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon. (BLM)
Local and state officials in Utah support the move, but the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, established by the Obama administration after the designation was made in December, is readying a legal challenge. Outdoors groups such as Defenders of Wildlife are planning to follow suit.
Over the course of his four-month review of the monuments, Zinke visited eight monument sites in six states:
- Bears Ears (Utah)
- Grand Staircase Escalante (Utah)
- Katahdin Woods and Waters (Maine)
- Northeast Canyons and Seamounts (marine national monument in the Atlantic off the New England coast)
- Cascade Siskiyou (Oregon and California)
- Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (New Mexico)
- Basin and Range (Nevada)
- Gold Butte (Nevada)
Prior to announcing he had submitted his recommendations to Trump, Zinke revealed that the following monuments had been removed from the review process and would not be impacted: Craters of the Moon, Idaho; Hanford Reach, Washington; Upper Missouri River Breaks, Montana; Grand Canyon-Parashant, Arizona; Canyons of the Ancients, Colorado; and Sand to Snow, California.
Legal scholars disagree about a president's authority to alter a monument's boundaries, though minor changes to monument footprints related to national security or highway construction have been completed and not challenged before. Many are expecting the issue to find its way to the Supreme Court.
Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, simply wants to know for sure what the Trump administration is planning.
“These are our public lands, and the public deserves to know what the administration plans to do with them,” he said. “These recommendations have the potential to impact the future of world-class hunting and fishing on some of America’s finest public lands and set a precedent for the future status of all national monuments, even those created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 — but we won’t know until the results of this public process are made public.”