WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Monday he recommended President Donald Trump shrink the size of the 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and give more authority to managing the smaller area to tribal leaders.
Zinke did not make recommendations on the 27 other national monuments currently under review, including Gold Butte and Basin and Range in Nevada.
Trump asked Zinke to review recent presidential declarations of monuments — including Bears Ears and Gold Butte, which were designated by President Barack Obama on Dec. 16 — to determine whether recent presidents abused their authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Zinke said the designation of Bears Ears overlapped wilderness area already protected. He said he recommended the president shrink the size, without a specific size of acreage to be trimmed, and focus on prehistoric and archeological sites.
“The recommendations were not made in a bubble in Washington, D.C.,” Zinke told reporters. “I’ve spent a lot of time on the ground in Utah.”
Zinke said he conducted a 45-day review of Bears Ears. His recommendation includes congressional review of the changes to boundaries of the park and more authority for tribal leaders.
The Utah congressional delegation had urged the Trump administration to overturn the Obama designation, and Grand Stairway-Escalante National Monument designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
The 45-day review dealt only with Bears Ears. Zinke said a final recommendation would come later this year after he has reviewed all the monuments listed for review.
A letter signed by 71 environment and natural resource lawyers said a White House executive order that authorized the review incorrectly implied the Trump administration has the authority to rescind or modify national monuments created by previous presidents.
It does not, the lawyers insisted. “Congress retained that power for itself.”
But conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and The Sutherland Institute argue Trump has the authority to reduce national monuments, a practice that has occurred several times.
Zinke is reviewing national monument declarations over the past 21 years to determine if presidents abused authority under the 110-year-old law to restrict commercial use of public lands with national monument declarations.
Environmental groups have vowed to legally challenge an administration alteration or rescinding of national monuments. The list of those monuments under review goes back 21 years.
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