THE SPECTRUM- An organization representing Native American tribes, environmental groups and others are vowing to fight any efforts by President Donald Trump to shrink national monuments as proposed in a leaked memorandum from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
The memorandum, first reported by the Wall Street Journal and then obtained by the Associated Press, suggests reducing the boundaries of a half dozen monument sites, including western monuments like Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, while making additional changes to four others.
The memo had not been made public since Zinke handed it over to the White House late last month, and it didn’t include such details as exactly how much acreage should be withdrawn from those monuments pegged for a reduction.
Zinke has spent parts of the past four months reviewing 27 monuments, responding to an April order from Trump, who called the creation of recent monuments under the Antiquities Act as “another egregious abuse of federal power” and referred to individual designation of Bears Ears as a “federal land grab.”
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The review covers about 553 million acres of public land and parts of the Pacific Ocean, most of which was set aside by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Some were created by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Many U.S. national parks started as national monuments, including four of the “Mighty Five” national parks in Utah, and there are 130 monuments across the country.
Supporters of keeping the monuments responded with harsh criticism on Monday, saying they would react with lawsuits if Trump moves forward with Zinke’s recommendations.
“Zinke and Trump are displaying their disdain for these magnificent public lands and the millions of people who demanded they remain protected,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of a long list of environmental advocacy groups who chimed in with criticisms on Monday. “Trump has no authority to make any of the changes that Zinke’s recommending. If he tries to, we’ll see him in court.”
Members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, a group of Native American tribal leaders who pushed for President Barack Obama to create the Bears Ears monument, have argued that shrinking the boundaries of the 1.35 million-acre monument would be an insult to the tribes with ancestral connections to the region.
“We had hoped that (Zinke) would listen to tribal voices and preserve (Bears Ears,)” said Shaun Chapoose, member of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee. “Instead, he has chosen a fight, and we have no choice but to continue the fight for our ancestors and for contemporary uses of the lands by our tribal members.”
Many have anticipated the issue might find its way into the courtroom, providing an unprecedented test of the presidential powers spelled out in the Antiquities Act, a 111-year-old law signed by Theodore Roosevelt to protect public lands.
The law gives the president broad power to establish national monuments as a way to protect federal land that contains “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”
Under the law, a president can create a monument, but there is no specific language granting authority to rescind or change a designation. Although Congress has abolished monuments 11 times, no president has ever done so.
Presidents have altered a number of monuments, though, 19 times according to the National Park Service.
None were as large or as broad as those Zinke is proposing though, and were often part of deals to create other protections elsewhere. The largest reduction proposed was President Woodrow Wilson’s cutting of 313,280 acres from the monument in Washington that would later be made into Olympic National Park.
None of those decisions were challenged in court.