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Interior head suggests reducing Bears Ears monument

Interior head suggests reducing Bears Ears monument

Over the weekend, the head of the Department of Interior, Ryan Zinke, submitted a report to the White House recommending to scale back protections for the Bears Ears National Monument in Southern Utah.

Among the biggest takeaways from the report were Zinke's request that the President ask Congress to act to enable tribal co-management of the monument.

The decision comes after a late-April executive order instructed Zinke to review 27 national monuments recently created under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law allowing a president to set aside lands for federal protection. A final review is planned for later this year, and the public comment period for Bears Ears has been extended through July 10th.

Zinke, a former Republican congressman from Montana, said he wants to make sure Native American culture is preserved and said Congress should approve legislation granting tribes legal authority to "co-manage" some of the Bears Ears site. In his memo, Zinke wrote that sizable sections of Bears Ears are suitable for "recreation; grazing; timber harvest; mining; and traditional activities such as gathering of medicinal herbs and plants; hunting, fishing, and wood gathering".

The Republican-controlled Congress has failed to approve significant public lands bills in recent years, but Zinke said that was because of veto threats by Obama. But in defending the decision to shrink Bears Ears, Secretary Zinke told reporters that "If you look at the Bears Ears as a whole, there's a lot more drop-dead gorgeous land than there are historic, prehistoric objects".

"Zinke's recommendation is a slap in the face to the tribes that sought protection for Bears Ears and any American who values our incredible public lands", said Randi Spivak, public lands program director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The secretary did not say how much of the land would be removed under his proposed recommendations, despite repeatedly being pressed for specifics.




Despite the almost unanimous sentiment among the general public who commented, Zinke chose to ignore the findings entirely in his official report to the president and instead pointed to the handful of comments received from industry-friendly Utah politicians who oppose Bears Ears to justify his bold recommendations. Whiteskunk said she was "appalled" at the announcement to try to reduce the monument's size. In essence, Trump's move constitutes his administration's most aggressive action against America's public lands, and yet again pits his administration in stark contrast with the opinions of the overwhelming majority of Americans. He also is calling on Congress to give Native American tribes more say in how the new monument is managed.

The department will also review the designations attached to five marine reserves including the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which is the largest such marine reserve in the world.

Zinke did not make recommendations on the 27 other national monuments now under review, including Gold Butte and Basin and Range in Nevada.

Tribes and conservation groups argue that this is a potentially illegal act and that Trump does not have the authority to eliminate sections of a national monument. "These lands are powerful economic drivers for our city, with thousands of visitors launching their adventures to these iconic landscapes from Salt Lake City".

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