Interior head suggests reducing Bears Ears National Monument

Interior head suggests reducing Bears Ears National Monument

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending that the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be shrunk.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed scaling back the borders of a national monument in southeastern Utah on Monday, a move that could prompt the first major rollback of public land protections under the Trump administration.

"The Secretary's recommendation isn't about doing what's best for Utah".

The report, provided to CNN, suggests revising aspects of Bears Ears' boundaries but does not detail where those changes would be made.

"Attempting to remove protections for public lands by diminishing a national monument would be unprecedented in the modern era and may jeopardize other monuments", said Corey Fisher, senior public policy director for Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen's Conservation Project.

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In April, Trump ordered the review of 27 national monuments declared since 1996, encompassing about 1bn acres, with Bears Ears among the most contentious.

"We will be involved in litigation if the monument is reduced in size", she said.

Despite broad public support from Native American tribes, business leaders, the outdoor recreation industry, conservationists, many elected officials and more than a million Americans from coast to coast, the Trump administration is recommending actions that could threaten the future of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

In an interim report Zinke gave to the White House on Saturday, he proposed Trump ask Congress to give tribal officials authority to co-manage "designated cultural resources" in the area and "make more appropriate conservation designations" within an area that President Barack Obama formally protected in southeastern Utah late past year. Bears Ears, a 1.4 million-acre monument created by former President Barack Obama in December, became a flashpoint in the debate over the president's ability to unilaterally create monuments under the law.

The review is likely to add fuel to a heated national debate over Washington's role in America's wildest spaces.

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As Zinke noted in his report, some residents in San Juan County anxious that keeping Bears Ears a national monument would hurt their ability to use the land and give the federal government too much influence in their lives.

Members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition backed by environmental groups have pushed hard for the designation because of the land's historical and sacred ties to Native Americans and because of the vast number of cultural artifacts - estimated to be as high as 100,000.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, representing oil and gas companies, said Zinke's approach was sensible. "Our people and our leaders have spent endless hours working to protect these lands through monument designation". He believes Trump should shrink the monument to include important archaeological sites - and nothing more.

An Interior Department spokesperson said that the report produced by Zinke and released Monday "is not a final plan within the recommendations" but complies with the executive order, which "directed a 45-day interim report" and did not require a final report.

The secretary traveled last month to the Bears Ears site, which lies within Utah's San Juan County, to listen to the state's politicians and nearby residents who opposed the designation. "The man charged with protecting public lands just told the public their voices don't count".

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