Conservation groups fear Utah's Bears Ears could lose much of its land
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's proposal to downsize a huge national monument in Utah has received mixed reactions.
It created optimism among opponents of 26 other monuments under review around the country. However, it brought fear among conservation groups. They worry that he will propose shrinking or rescinding other sites in his final report due in late August.
Along the New England coast, commercial fishermen were ecstatic. They welcomed last week's news about Zinke's proposed shrinking of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. They hope it is a predictor of a similar fate for a marine monument they oppose.
They are preparing to make a pitch for a full undoing of the designation when Zinke visits the area.
Is It A Conservation Move Or Control?
Opponents of other sites are making similar plans after the Bears Ears decision. They say the designations often close areas to oil, gas and mineral development along with other uses.
The proposal sets a guide for the review of all the monuments, said Beth Casoni. She is executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association Inc. "Under the former administration, we questioned whether this is about conservation or just control," she said.
Conservation groups that were stung by Zinke's monument shrinking proposal are trying to rally public support to fully preserve the monuments. However, they know it might not be that simple. They expect they will have to resort to an extended legal fight if President Donald Trump eventually downsizes or eliminates monument designations.
They say the 1908 Antiquities Act allows presidents to create monuments but gives only Congress the power to change them.
"It's obvious the goal is to serve private interests over the public good," said Kristen Boyles. She is a staff lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice.
Seeking Common Sense
Zinke is getting ready to visit the Katahdin Wood and Waters Monument in Maine. People there on both sides of the issue are studying his Bears Ears proposal.
Demar Dahl is an Elko County commissioner in Nevada. He said he expects Zinke will take the same shrink-but-not-rescind approach with two Nevada monuments under review. They are Basin and Range, and Gold Butte.
"I don't have the problem with things being protected that need to be protected," Dahl said. However, when you set aside maybe 10 times more area than you need, common sense needs to kick in, he said.
Zinke called the Bears Ears area "drop-dead gorgeous country" that deserves protection on Monday in explaining his proposal. However, he said the boundaries should be more narrowly focused around key cultural sites.
Mining And Timber Cutting Would Change
Trump ordered the monument review based on the idea that presidents increasingly are protecting areas that are too large. The thinking is that they do not fit the law's purpose of shielding particular historical or archaeological sites.
National monument designations add protections for lands revered for their natural beauty and historical significance. The goal is to preserve them for future generations.
The restrictions are not as strict as national parks. Some policies include limits on mining, timber cutting and recreational activities such as riding off-road vehicles.
Many national monuments have later been declared national parks. Among them were Zion National Park in Utah and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.