Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended Tuesday that President Trump shrink two more national monuments and change how six others are managed, expanding the administration’s effort to roll back what it sees as excessive use of presidential authority to protect public lands.
Zinke, a day after Trump signed proclamations reducing the size of two Utah national monuments, urged the president to cut Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.
He is still considering the exact size of the proposed reductions for the two monuments. Trump has not acted on the Gold Butte and Cascade-Siskiyou recommendations.
Former President Barack Obama created the 296,937-acre Gold Butte in 2016. Former President Bill Clinton designated 52,000 acres as the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in 2000, and Obama expanded it by nearly 48,000 acres in 2017.
Zinke also is recommending Trump change management plans for six more monuments, allowing for additional grazing, ranching, fishing, hunting, and other activities.
And he proposed Trump create three new monuments: the Badger II Medicine Area, a 130,000-acre section of the Lewis and Clark National Forest in his home state of Montana; Camp Nelson, an 1863 Union Army site in Kentucky; and the Mississippi home of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
“America has spoken and public land belongs to the people,” Zinke said Tuesday. “As I visited the monuments across this country, I met with Americans on all sides of the issue — from ranchers to conservationists to tribal leaders — and found that we agree on wanting to protect our heritage while still allowing public access to public land. My recommendations to the president reflect that, in some circumstances, proclamations should be amended, boundaries revised, and management plans updated.”
In a visit to Utah on Monday, Trump said he is reducing the 1.35 million acres of Bears Ears, established by Obama, to 201,876 acres, and Grand Staircase, created by Clinton in 1996, from 1.7 million acres to 1 million.
Native American tribes and environmental groups have filed separate lawsuits challenging Trump’s move, arguing that the 1906 Antiquities Act does not explicitly give authority to presidents to reduce the size of national monuments, although some have done so on a limited scale.
The concept has not been tested in court.
Trump, shortly after his inauguration, ordered Zinke to undertake a review of 27 national monuments created since 1996.
The Trump administration and congressional Republicans say previous presidents abused their authority under the Antiquities Act to unilaterally declare national monuments, setting aside larger and larger swaths of public land, limiting development opportunities and stifling local control.
The Antiquities Act specifies that national monuments should cover "the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.”
Naming a national monument through the Antiquities Act, which was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, has historically received bipartisan support. Eight Democratic presidents and eight Republicans have used the law in some form, according to the Wilderness Society.
Since 1996, however, the act has been used by presidents 26 times to create monuments that are 100,000 acres or more and have included private property within the boundaries, Zinke said. A national monument designation prohibits prospective mining and drilling on the land, although existing leases for energy extraction are maintained.
Monuments are similar to national parks, which are created by Congress.
Despite his concerns about how the Antiquities Act has been used, Zinke acknowledged strong public support for keeping the monuments as they are.
“Some monuments reflect a long public debate process and are largely settled and strongly supported by the local community,” Zinke said, adding the Interior Department received 2.8 million comments related to his review of monuments, which were “overwhelmingly in favor” of keeping current boundaries.
Environmental groups quickly promised more legal action.
“Contrary to their claims, the Trump administration is ignoring countless local communities and undoing the thoughtful participation that led to the creation of these monuments,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “We will fight in court any executive action that substantially strips protections from national monuments and we will continue to oppose any legislative attempts to codify those assaults into law or gut the Antiquities Act.”