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Public Lands

Interior Sec. Zinke recommends shrinking Bears Ears National Monument

The boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument could change, but it's unclear by how much.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says he spent days learning “more about Bears Ears than [he] ever thought possible.” After taking a multi-day tour through the area, he announced Monday that he has recommended President Donald Trump shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.

“There’s a lot more drop-dead gorgeous land than there is historic landmarks, prehistoric structures and other objects,” Zinke said on a conference call with reporters. “I have to be consistent going forward with all the review, and consistency really is the law, what the law states.”

Zinke said he did not yet have exact boundaries to suggest, or an estimate of how the size of the monument may change after revision. Members of Utah’s Congressional delegation are pleased with his decision, he said. Elected officials in Utah originally asked Trump to rescind the monument earlier this year, citing concerns over losing economic viability in an area where so much land is already protected by the federal government.

 Zinke will also ask Congress to make a provision allowing for tribal nations with a vested interest in Bears Ears to have the authority to co-manage the monument with the federal government.

“Despite months of rhetoric claiming his respect for Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy of public lands protection, Secretary Zinke revealed he is just another politician looking to exploit and develop America’s public lands at the expense of our children and grandchildren,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said in a statement in which she threatened to sue Trump if he moves forward with Zinke’s recommendation. “Secretary Zinke’s recommendation that the president shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument ignores the law and public outcry, including over one million comments in support of monument status. Bears Ears holds irreplaceable cultural, ecological and recreational value and it needs our protection.”

Much of the controversy over Trump’s executive order demanding Zinke review monuments has been because of the authority the Antiquities Act gives to presidents. Under the Act, former President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument in the last weeks of his presidency. There is no legal precedent for a president revising a monument’s boundaries except to expand them.

The Outdoor Industry Association says it’s disappointed by Zinke’s recommendation. Americans, and Utahns, overwhelmingly supported Bears Ears during the open comment period. About 88 percent of Utahns who submitted comments said they were in favor of keeping the monument, according to an analysis by the Center for Western Priorities.

“Outdoor companies, user groups and individuals from across the outdoor industry worked tirelessly over the past several years to protect this special place through legislation,” OIA Executive Director Amy Roberts wrote in a statement released after Zinke’s announcement. “When the legislative process failed, OIA endorsed executive action to protect Bears Ears. We are worried that the legislative process would fail again, leaving these important areas unprotected.”

OIA was, however, encouraged by Zinke’s claim that the Antiquities Act is “an American success,” Roberts wrote.

Zinke did not say whether he will advise Trump to attempt to change the monument’s boundaries through an executive order or other means. In the interim report he sent to Trump, made public Monday, he says he recommends the boundary “be revised through the use of appropriate authority, including exercise of the President’s authority granted by the Act.”

Outdoor industry brands started responding Monday afternoon to Zinke’s recommendation. 

“Reductions to any of our national monuments hinder our nation’s conservation legacy and the pride we share for our public lands,” The North Face said in a statement. “The North Face will continue to work for the protection of public lands as a driver of America’s cultural identity and economic opportunity. We will press on so the next generation of explorers can enjoy nature’s playground.”

REI CEO Jerry Stritzke said in a statement that he is disappointed that Zinke, “a native Montanan who grew up in the shadow of Glacier National Park,” would contradict his public statements of love for the nation’s public lands.

“It’s important to keep in mind that this is an interim report,” Stritzke said. “The decision is not final. We now have just two months to unite as a community across party lines to ensure current protections remain intact for all national monuments under review. If Secretary Zinke truly is a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist, we appeal to him to honor that spirit and show his own leadership on behalf of America’s great outdoors.”

Zinke extended the public comment period for Bears Ears to July 10, the deadline to weigh in on how Trump should move forward with the other monuments under review. 

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