US interior chief recommends changes on some protected lands

Zinke under fire from public lands advocates

Four months later, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has completed the review and decided that none of the 27 national monuments under consideration should be eliminated.

Speaking to the Associated Press in Billings, Montana, Zinke said unspecified boundary adjustments for some of the 27 national monuments were among his recommendations. The interior department has provided no public details on the size or location of these boundary changes, though Zinke told the AP he felt some monuments are too large.

In a press release Thursday, Zinke said his review "provides 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".

In suggesting this, Zinke also told the AP that none of the sites would revert to new ownership and would remain open for outdoor activities.

A summary of Zinke's report said proponents of keeping the monument designations have "tended to promote monument designation as a mechanism to prevent the sale or transfer of public land".

When the White House first announced the review, environmentalists sounded the alarm, concerned that it was the beginning of opening up previously-protected territories to oil and gas industry exploitation.

Conservationists and tribal leaders responded with alarm and distrust, demanding the full release of Zinke's recommendations and vowing to challenge attempts to shrink any monuments.

"There's an expectation we need to look out 100 years from now to keep the public land experience alive in this country", Zinke said. "I find that the Bears Ears National Monument does not fully conform with the policies set forth" in Trump's executive order.

Some 2.4 million public comments, almost all of them supporting the national monuments - including the dazzling and historically important geological formations of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears in Utah - were submitted in the past 60 days.

This entire Kabuki dance may have been put in place JUST to attack one National Monument - the newest one, just created by President Obama last December in the final days of his administration. "This narrative is false and has no basis in fact".

Some background: Zinke's review began in late April, after an executive order directed the interior department to review 22 federally-owned lands protected by the Antiquities Act of 1906.

"The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it's time that we ended this abusive practice", Trump stated. "The public has a right to know", said Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president of the conservation group Oceana.

The 553 million acres under scrutiny included the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico, the Carrizo Plain, San Gabriel Mountains, Giant Sequoia, Berryessa Snow Mountain and Mojave Trails National Monuments in California, and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine. However, he dismissed fears about the intention to sell off public lands.

The act is a unique instrument of American law whereby a sitting president can designate an area a "national monument" without approval or consent of anyone, including Congress. He said that the Obama-designated Bears Ears National Monument in Utah should be downsized, despite widespread public opposition to such a plan.

"Secretary Zinke needs to level with the American people".

"The designation of Bears Ears National Monument was a celebratory moment where our voice was finally heard, and our cultural and spiritual heritage was respected", added Davis Filfred, Navajo Nation Council delegate.

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