In August, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke acknowledged he was recommending to President Donald Trump that “a handful” of national monuments be reduced in size, but he refused to say which they were. Since then, the White House also has refused to release Zinke’s recommendation to the public or provide details of what’s in the 19-page document, but the Washington Post recently obtained a copy and tonight posted it online. Zinke’s plan would, as environmentalists, conservationists, and many outdoor enthusiasts feared, make four land-based monuments smaller: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Gold Butte in Nevada, and Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon. He would also reduce the size of the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll monuments.
All four of the land monuments were created by Democratic presidents—Grand Staircase and Cascade-Siskiyou by Bill Clinton and Gold Butte and Bears Ears by Barack Obama. The marine monuments were signed into law by President George W. Bush.
“It appears that certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining and timber production rather than to protect specific objects,” Zinke’s report says, noting that monument practices “can have the indirect result of hindering livestock-grazing uses.” In Grand Staircase, for example, grazing permits are at the same level as before the monument was created, but, he complained, activities like moving water lines, maintaining infrastructure like fences and roads, and erosion control have negatively impacted ranching.
Trump ordered Zinke to review the monuments with an eye toward shrinking or eliminating some, which has rallied the outdoor industry and outraged Americans, who overwhelmingly support the protection of public lands. Even in the stubbornly independent states of Maine and Nevada, more than 75 percent of those who commented were in favor of leaving monuments untouched. More than 350 outdoor industry CEOs signed a letter opposing any change to existing monuments, while pointing out that outdoor recreation adds $887 billion a year to the economy and $125 billion in taxes.
Protest from environmental groups was swift. Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, said in a statement, “Acting on these recommendations would represent an unprecedented assault on our parks and public lands, and undermine bipartisan progress to protect our lands and waters that dates to Theodore Roosevelt. This callous proposal will needlessly punish local, predominantly rural communities that depend on parks and public lands for outdoor recreation, sustainable jobs and economic growth.”
Williams promised to sue if the administration moves forward. “If President Trump acts in support of these recommendations, The Wilderness Society will move swiftly to challenge those actions in court. We urge the president to ignore these illegal and dangerous recommendations and instead act to preserve our natural wonders that are at the core of a great nation.”
If so, they probably won’t be the only ones unleashing their lawyers. In April, Patagonia vowed to fight changes to national monuments with “everything” they had.
“A president does not have the authority to rescind a national monument. An attempt to change the boundaries ignores the review process of cultural and historical characteristics and the public input,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said in a statement.
“We’re watching the Trump administration’s actions very closely and preparing to take every step necessary, including legal action, to defend our most treasured public landscapes from coast to coast.”
Last month, Patagonia also released its first television ad, below, in defense of public lands.
Zinke’s report argues that monuments should be sized as small as possible and still protect objects contained within that are to be protected by the Antiquity Act, the 1906 law presidents use to create monuments, and not take into consideration ecosystems and viewsheds. He also wants the management of 10 monuments to be more friendly to industry, citing “an estimated several billion tons of coal and large oil deposits” that lie beneath Grand Staircase-Escalante. He also wants logging, which he calls “active timber management,” in Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument.
The White House refused to comment on the recommendations, which were also leaked to the Wall Street Journal.