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Zinke says he recommended no national monuments be eliminated

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said none of the 22 national monuments under review by the Trump administration should be eliminated outright, but he is recommending boundary reductions at a “handful” of sites he declined to name.

Zinke told The Associated Press that unspecified boundary adjustments for some monuments designated over the past two decades were included in the report he submitted to President Donald Trump on Thursday.

None of the federally controlled sites would revert to new ownership, he said, while public access for uses such as hunting, fishing or grazing would be maintained or restored.

Two Obama-era national monuments in Nevada — Gold Butte in northeastern Clark County and Basin and Range in remote Lincoln and Nye counties — are among those reviewed by Zinke over the past four months.

A White House official confirmed on background that Trump had received Zinke’s recommendations and said the president was reviewing them “to determine the best path forward for the American people.”

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon are on the list of sites Zinke wants downsized. In June, Zinke called for an unspecified boundary reduction for the 1.4 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

The Interior Department announced the completion of the review in a press release Thursday. It linked to a summary of the report that did not mention any monuments by name or include specifics about Zinke’s recommendations.

Frustrated monument advocates seized on the lack of information released so far.

“This entire exercise was allegedly to bring transparency and the public into the process of protecting our cultural and natural resources,” Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said. “Secretary Zinke and President Trump have instead created more questions than answers and are ignoring the years of hard work by thousands advocating for the creation of Gold Butte, Basin and Range and monuments across the United States.”

Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the exercise was “a sham” from the start.

“Secretary Zinke is ending this review just like it began and has proceeded throughout: veiled in secrecy and ignoring the public,” Donnelly said. “Nevadans have clearly stated that they support Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments, and this administration has no choice but to respect the will of the people.”

The Tucson, Arizona-based environmental group filed a Freedom of Information Act request Thursday for Zinke’s report to the president. Earlier this month, the group sued the administration for failing to respond to its public record requests for Zinke’s emails, schedule and other documents associated with the review.

Zinke, who was in Montana Thursday for a briefing on wildfires burning across the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest, declined to say whether portions of the monuments he wants changed would be opened up to oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and other industries for which Trump has advocated.

Instead, he spoke of protecting tribal interests and historical land grants, pointing to monuments in New Mexico, where Hispanic ranchers have opposed two monuments proclaimed by President Barack Obama.

If Trump adopts the recommendations, it would quiet some of the worst fears of his opponents, who warned that vast public lands and marine areas could be lost to states or private interests.

But significant reductions in the size of the monuments, especially those created by Obama, would mark the latest in a string of actions where Trump has sought to erode his Democratic predecessor’s legacy.

The recommendations cap an unprecedented review launched by executive order on April 26 and based on a belief that the century-old Antiquities Act had been misused by past presidents to create oversized monuments that hinder energy development, grazing and other uses.

The review raised alarm among conservationists who said protections could be lost for areas that are home to ancient cliff dwellings, towering sequoia trees, deep canyons and ocean habitats. They’ve vowed to file lawsuits if Trump attempts any changes that would reduce the size of monuments or rescind their designations.

Zinke had previously announced that he would recommend that no changes be made to six national monuments: Grand Canyon-Parashant in northwestern Arizona, just across the border from Nevada; Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado; Craters of the Moon in Idaho; Hanford Reach in Washington; Sand to Snow in Southern California; and Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter. Review-Journal White House correspondent Debra J. Saunders and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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