DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — The Interior Department Friday identified 27 national monuments, mostly in Western states, that it is reviewing for possible changes to the protections created by presidents over the past two decades.
Also announced Friday – the first ever formal public comment period for members of the public to officially weigh in on monument designations under the Antiquities Act of 1906. For dates and deadlines of the public comment period see the end of this report.
A public comment period is not required for monument designations under the Antiquities Act, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a news release, adding that he and President Donald Trump both strongly believe that local input is a critical component of federal land management.
“The Department of the Interior is the steward of America’s greatest treasures and the manager of one-fifth of our land. Part of being a good steward is being a good neighbor and listening to the American people who we represent,” Zinke said in a statement.
“Today’s action, initiating a formal public comment process finally gives a voice to local communities and states when it comes to Antiquities Act monument designations. There is no pre-determined outcome on any monument. I look forward to hearing from and engaging with local communities and stakeholders as this process continues.”
Trump issued Executive Order 13792 on April 26, saying protections imposed by his three immediate predecessors amounted to “a massive federal land grab” that “should never have happened.”
The list includes 22 monuments on federal land in 11 states including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Nevada’s Basin and Range and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine.
The review also targets five marine monuments in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, including a huge reserve in Hawaii established in 2006 by President George W. Bush and expanded last year by President Barack Obama.
In December, shortly before leaving office, Obama infuriated Utah Republicans by creating the Bears Ears National Monument on more than 1 million acres of land that’s sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.
Republicans in the state asked Trump to take the unusual step of reversing or revising Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. They said the monument designation will stymie growth by closing the area to new commercial and energy development.
San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman recently told St. George News that the designation has had an unintended negative effect on certain antiquities covered by the monument status, antiquities previously protected as wilderness study areas. Monument status, on the other hand, has driven more tourism to the sites, he said.
Trump’s order also targets the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, created by Clinton in 1996, and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, created last year by Obama. At 87,500 acres, Katahdin is the only one of the 22 monuments under review that is smaller than 100,000 acres, the minimum size designated by the order.
The Antiquities Act does not explicitly express or deny power to the president to undo a designation and no president has ever taken such a step. Areas designated as monuments have, however, been enlarged or diminished in many cases by presidential order. Many have been redesignated national or state parks by Congress with appropriate transfers of management.
Zinke has been directed to produce an interim report next month and make a recommendation on Bears Ears, and then issue a final report within 120 days. He is traveling to Utah on Sunday and will visit Bears Ears and Grand Staircase.
San Juan County commissioners issued a statement Friday about Zinke’s upcoming visit, noting they want the Bears Ears National Monument designation rescinded.
“A monument of this size would devastate the economy of San Juan County,” Lyman said in the statement. “Healthy economies require diversification – locking up 1.3 million square acres of land shuts down our ability to build an economy outside of the narrow tourism months.”
Rebecca Benally, a San Juan County commissioner and a member of the Navajo Nation, agreed.
“These lands have been wonderfully protected and watched over by the local population for generations. The last minute, grotesquely large designation from President Obama to place control of these lands in the hands of un-elected bureaucrats a thousand miles away is an insult to our people,” her statement reads.
San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams also responded to supporters of the monument.
“Many large out of state groups and Washington DC bureaucrats advocating for the monument and have made numerous empty promises of increased land access and use,” Adams said in the statement. “However, history shows that lands designated as monuments are dotted with more “Area Closed” signs than ever before. These empty promises ring of hollowness and their history is not comforting to the people of San Juan.”
Public comment period
Comments may be submitted online after May 12 here by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.
The Interior Department will shortly publish a notice in the Federal Register officially opening the public comment period. Written comments relating to the Bears Ears National Monument must be submitted within 15 days of publication of that notice.
Written comments relating to all other designations subject to Executive Order 13792 must be submitted within 60 days of that date.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Additional content provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the San Juan County Commissioners.
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