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Zinke: 'Some' monument designations clearly outside law

SALT LAKE CITY — A summary of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's draft monument review released Thursday notes that some monuments' adherence to definitions in the Antiquities Act were either arbitrary or politically motivated, lacked a basis in science or were unsupported by practical resource management.

The executive summary made public is part of a more detailed report of recommendations delivered to the White House as part of a 120-day review of national monuments that began in April.

The summary did not provide specifics of recommendations, which was blasted by critics of the review that they assert is illegal and attacks some of the country's most important landscapes.

But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who spoke with Zinke by phone Wednesday to get more details, said he "feels good" about those recommendations that remain under wrap.

"I appreciate Secretary Zinke’s thorough and thoughtful review, and the efforts he made to ensure relevant stakeholders, particularly those in San Juan, Kane and Garfield counties, had an opportunity to be heard," he said in a statement released Thursday. "I look forward to assisting in every way possible as additional details about the future of Utah’s monuments are made public."

Zinke pared the initial list of 27 monuments to 21, but two contentious designations in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — remained.

The review is the result of an executive order issued by President Donald Trump after complaints by monument critics that past presidential declarations fell outside the scope of the 1906 Antiquities Act and were more about politics than meaningful conservation.

Zinke told the Associated Press earlier Thursday that his executive summary recommends changes to a "handful of monuments," and that no past designations would be rescinded altogether, including the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

Additionally, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Zinke's executive summary is centered on broad principles and tenets of the Antiquities Act, which was passed in response to cultural "antiquities" at risk of being vandalized.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said in a teleconference Thursday that he believes forthcoming monument recommendations will be accompanied by details of why the boundaries were reduced in context with the provisions of the Antiquities Act.

That law spells out that land can be set aside by a U.S. presidential declaration to protect cultural resources, but in the "smallest area compatible" to achieve the objects' protections.

Zinke's summary said some designations clearly fell outside that federal law.

"Adherence to the act’s definition of an 'object' and 'smallest area compatible' clause on some monuments were either arbitrary or likely politically motivated, or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource management," the document states.

"Despite the apparent lack of adherence to the purpose of the act, some monuments reflect a long public debate process and are largely settled and strongly supported by the local community," according to the summary.

Other monuments remain controversial, the report states, and designations overlap federal land designations already in place or contain signficant private property within their boundaries.

“No president should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object,” Zinke said in a prepared statement.

“The recommendations I sent to the president on national monuments will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and also provide a much-needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses and recreation.”

Monument supporters blasted the absence of specific recommendations Thursday.

"This secrecy shows the Trump administration knows their attack on national monuments is wildly unpopular," said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities. "If Secretary Zinke expects Americans to be thankful because he wants to merely erase large chunks of national monuments instead of eliminating them entirely, he is badly mistaken."

The Natural Resources Defense Council, another environmental organization, said the pending recommendations threaten America's public lands and waterways with "industrial ravage and ruin."

"Our laws grant presidents the power to protect special places for all time. No president, though, has the right to take public waters and lands away from us for the sake of industrial ravage and ruin," said the council's Rhea Suh.

Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the Trump administration's intention of shrinking some of the monuments flies in the face of public will.

"It’s outrageous that after 99 percent of the more than 2.8 million comments received by the secretary supported keeping our monuments protected, Secretary Zinke is still recommending the president illegally attack our national treasures. President Trump should throw this report away."

Opponents to any changes in monument designations have choreographed an extensive public information and advertising campaign aimed at eliciting support for monuments to remain intact, including full-page ads taken out Thursday in both Salt Lake City newspapers by the Conservation Lands Foundation.

Critics contend any reduction in monument boundaries is illegal, but Zinke's letter points out existing monument boundaries have been modified by previous presidents 18 times, "and there is no doubt that President Trump has the authority to review and consider recommendations to modify or add a monument."

Bishop, during his teleconference, said the review was an important path to foster more dialogue over the flawed process used to designate national monuments.

He and other members of Utah's congressional delegation have been universal in their condemnation of former President Barack Obama's designation of Bears Ears last December and the way Grand Staircase was designated in 1996.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he believes Utah's two most recent monument designations — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — exceed the scope of the Antiquities Act.

"It is my hope that the president will carefully study the secretary's recommendations to narrow the application of the Antiquities Act. If the president decides to modify current monuments, I trust the stakeholders in our public land debates will work with Congress in good faith to pass legislation to clarify controversial public land use regulations," Herbert said.

Advertising and social media campaigns ratcheting support of status quo for Bears Ears and other national monuments assert the review is designed to unleash the extractive industry on sensitive lands or sell off or privatize public lands that should be kept in "public hands."

Zinke said none of his recommendations change the federal land ownership and the narrative that those lands will be sold or privatized is "false."

But the remaining uncertainty over certain monuments' destinies is not setting well with groups across the country.

"These are our public lands, and the public deserves to know what the administration plans to do with them,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“These recommendations have the potential to impact the future of world-class hunting and fishing on some of America’s finest public lands and set a precedent for the future status of all national monuments, even those created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 — but we won’t know until the results of this public process are made public.”

Fosburgh said fishing and hunting is allowed in 22 of the 27 monuments under initial review.

In San Juan County — home to the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears Monument — Commissioner Phil Lyman said the campaign over the sprawling landscape has been ugly, and it didn't need to be.

"If they would do these things with a little common sense and drop the politics, a national monument should be an honor to a community; it means that on a national level they recognize something that we think is really fantastic and beautiful," Lyman told KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."