REPORT: Past Presidents Created National Monuments To ‘Prevent Economic Activity’

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday publicly released a report detailing his recommendations to President Donald Trump regarding dozens of large national monuments.

Zinke’s report not only lays out what he thinks Trump should do with some national monuments, the secretary also summarized concerns he had that past administrations had abused the Antiquities Act when putting federal land under stricter control.

“While early monument designations focused more on geological formations, archaeological ruins, and areas of historical interest, a more recent and broad interpretation of what constitutes an ‘object of historic or scientific interest’ has been extended to include landscape areas, biodiversity, and viewsheds,” Zinke wrote to Trump.

“Moreover, features such as World War II desert bombing craters and remoteness have been included in justifying proclamations,” Zinke wrote.

Zinke’s final report is similar to versions leaked to The Washington Post in September. Zinke recommended Trump redraw the borders of four national monuments and change the management plans for 10 of them.

Trump has already acted on some of Zinke’s recommendations, reducing the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah by more than 2 million acres. Trump also changed the land management plans for both monuments to protect local access and rights.

Democrats opposed the decision, and environmental groups and tribal officials sued the Trump administration. Activists claim Trump has no authority to shrink monuments under the Antiquities Act, only the authority to designate new monuments.

“President Trump has perpetrated a terrible violation of America’s public lands and heritage by going after this dinosaur treasure trove,” Earthjustice attorney Heidi McIntosh said in a statement.

Hunting groups, however, praised Trump’s shrinking of Bears Ears. The group Safari Club International said the decision affirms “the benefit of traditional land uses, such as hunting and recreational shooting, to our nation’s resource management.”

Trump asked Zinke to review national monuments in April to look for potential abuses in the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives the president the power to designate monuments on federal lands.

Zinke found that while some monuments were properly designated with lots of local input, others, like Grand Staircase-Escalante, “remain controversial and contain significant private property within the identified external boundary or overlap with other Federal land designations such … lands specifically set aside by Congress for permanent forest production.”

Southeastern Utah’s Bears Ears monument, for example, overlapped a national forest when President Barack Obama designated it in late 2016.

Zinke also noted how “prior Administrations appear, in some instances, to have designated monuments only after congressional efforts to develop broader land-management legislation stalled.”

“As a result, some monument boundaries mirror the previously proposed legislative boundaries that were developed as part of proposed comprehensive land-management legislation, not pursuant to the Act,” Zinke wrote.

“It appears that certain monuments may have been designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining, and timber production rather than to protect specific objects,” he wrote.

Zinke also recommended Trump ask Congress to give Native American tribes co-management rights over four national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Only Congress can give tribes co-management rights.

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