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UPDATE | Report: Interior Secretary Recommending Changes To 10 National Monuments


A report says Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that President Trump reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah/BLM

Editor's note: This updates with additional details from secretary's recommendations, including a call for three new monuments, and additional reaction. Corrects that the memo calls for a mix of presidential proclamation and Congressional action to implement the recommendations, not solely through presidential action.

Various conservation groups were expressing outrage over a draft report outlining Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's recommendations to President Trump on ten national monuments he thinks should be modified, either through boundary changes or to allow resource extraction.

At the National Parks Conservation Association, officials said the president has no legal authority to make the changes proposed by Secretary Zinke, that only Congress holds that authority. At Trout Unlimited, President and CEO Chris Wood said the report "raises more questions than it answers and continues to leave the future of these protected public lands in limbo."

"However," added Mr. Wood, "one thing is certain: If the Trump Administration goes forward with recommendations to unilaterally reduce the size of certain monuments and open up others to extractive uses that are not compatible with values such as fishing and hunting, it would be an unprecedented setback on public lands and the legacy of conservation in this country.”

A copy of the 19-page draft memorandum, obtained by The Washington Post, calls for a number of changes to monuments ranging from Bears Ears in Utah and Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico and Kathadin Woods and Waters in Maine. According to the draft memo, Secretary Zinke suggested that President Trump make the changes via a mix of proclamations and legislative assistance from Congress.

Under the draft memo, the recommendations include:

1. Bears Ears National Monument: boundary revision
2. Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument: boundary revision to allow timber harvesting
3. Gold Butte National Monument: boundary revision
4. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: boundary revision
5. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument: timber harvesting
6. Northeast Canyons and Seamounts: commercial fishing
7. Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument: revise proclamation
8. Pacific Remote Islands National Monument: boundary revision to allow commercial fishing
9. Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument: revise proclamation
10. Rose Atoll National Monument: boundary revision to allow commercial fishing

“Our worst fears are confirmed with news of this report. Gutting protections and changing boundaries for national monuments would be a sad chapter in our country’s history," Theresa Pierno, NPCA's president and CEO, said Sunday evening in a statement. "Places like Bears Ears would be vulnerable to mining, oil and gas and other destructive development. Suggesting timber harvesting in Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine is in complete opposition to the values for which the park was originally designated. Grand Staircase could be carved up to allow coal mining and road building."

President Trump directed Secretary Zinke back in April to review 27 national monuments, designated as long ago as 1996, to determine whether their designations had been properly made under The Antiquities Act. Secretary Zinke completed his review in late August, having visited just eight of the 27, but didn't make his recommendations public.

“It’s now clear why the White House has been keeping this memo under lock and key—Secretary Zinke tried to toss the White House a political hot potato," said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities. "This so-called ‘final report’ is embarrassingly thin on substance, but is filled with politically-motivated suggestions sure to please anti-park members of Congress and their friends in the oil, gas, and coal industries. The report takes a cudgel to America’s public lands legacy, encouraging President Trump to make an unprecedented attack that would close off national monuments for future generations."

Secretary Zinke (left), who said after he toured Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument that it deserved to be a national park, reportedly is recommending that logging be allowed within its borders/NPS

Back at NPCA, Kristen Brengel, the group's vice president for government affairs, said Monday morning that NPCA's legal counsel was of the opinion that the secretary's recommendations are illegal "because you can't revise (presidential) proclamations, you can't amend them."

That opinion, she continued, held that since 1976 Congress has made clear through the Federal Land Management Policy Act and the Redwoods Amendment that it alone holds the authority to dispose of or redesignate public lands.

Ms. Brengel also pointed to language elsewhere in the memo that she believes indicate the secretary wants to change a president's authority under The Antiquities Act.

For instance, in the document's executive summary it states that "no president should use the authority under the Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional uses. ... The Executive power under the Act is not a substitute for a lack of congressional action on protective land designations."

Also concerning NPCA is the section on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a 1.9-million acre monument in southern Utah that President Clinton designated in 1996. Secretary Zinke specifically menions that the monument holds "an estimated several billion tons of coal and large oil deposits," and that Kane and Garfield counties claim that they have valid rights to roads through the monument under R.S. 2477, a post-Civil War act Congress passed to encourage Western settlement.

"They talk about R.S. 2477, WSAs, coal, oil drilling. If that’s a clue to how they would reduce the boundary, they would basically reduce the boundary to nothing because there are R.S. 2477 claims all over there," she said. "The preamble in that one was the most scary for me.”

At the Sierra Club, Executive Director Michael Brune said that the Interior secretary's "proposal threatens the very idea of shared public spaces open to all. Leaving the protection of Native American sacred sites, outdoor recreation destinations, and natural wonders to the goodwill of polluting industries is a recipe for disaster. Secretary Zinke has just sold out public lands and all the people who rely on them."

Secretary Zinke did in the memo suggest three new national monuments: one to cover roughly 130,000 acres in Montana next to Glacier National Park, the Badger-Two Medicine Area of the Lewis anc Clark National Forest; the Jackson, Mississippi, home of Medgar Evers, an NAACP field secretary who led protests against segregation and was murdered outside his home in 1963, and; Camp Nelson, a Civil War Union Army supply depot in Kentucky that served as the "third-largest recruitment and training center for African-American regiments during the Civil War."

Legal challenges are sure to follow if President Trump acts on the recommendations. Among the points to be challenged is whether the president has the authority to make the changes outlined in Secretary Zinke's memo. Legal opinions have differed, with some saying yes, and some no.

In stating that the president by himself cannot rescind a designation, five attorneys from the East Coast firm of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP earlier this year held that only Congress has the power to revoke such a designation.

"... as to those national monuments which were made part of the National Park System, Congress has mandated that the power to manage those special places 'shall not be exercised in derogation of the values and purposes for which the System units have been established, except as directly and specifically provided by Congress,'" they wrote in the analysis distributed by U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva. "Revoking the designation of such a national monument and pulling it out of the National Park System would certainly be in derogation of the reasons such special places were added to that System. The revocation of the designation of a national monument, and particularly one added to the National Park System, is therefore beyond the power of a president acting alone."

But John Yoo and Todd Gaziano of the American Enterprise Institute countered that they "believe a president’s discretion to change monument boundaries is without limit, but even if that is not so, his power to significantly change monument boundaries is at its height if the original designation was unreasonably large under the facts as they existed then or based on changed circumstances."

Presidents in the past have changed monument boundaries. According to National Park Service records:

  • President Eisenhower reduced the reservation for Great Sand Dunes National Monument by 25 percent. (He reduced the original 35,528-acre monument by a net 8,920 acres.)
  • President Truman diminished the reservation for Santa Rosa Island National Monument by almost half. (The original 9,500-acre reservation by Franklin Roosevelt was diminished by 4,700 acres.) 
  • Presidents Taft, Wilson, and Coolidge collectively reduced the reservation for Mount Olympus by almost half, the largest by President Wilson in 1915 (cutting 313,280 acres from the original 639,200-acre monument). 
  • The largest percentage reduction was by President Taft in 1912 to his own prior reservation in 1909 for Navajo National Monument. (His elimination of 320 acres from the original 360-acre reservation was an 89 percent reduction.)

In his summary report made this summer, Secretary Zinke maintained that President Trump has "the authority to review and consider recommendations to modify or add a monument," and he held that the use of The Antiquities Act by recent presidents has been "arbitrary or likely politically motivated or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource management."

Back at Trout Unlimited, though, officials expressed great concern over that interpretation.

“A few of the preliminary recommendations could be steps in the right direction, but if implemented, the negative impacts of the draft overshadow the positive," said Corey Fisher, the organization's senior policy director. "Any attempt by the Administration to shrink national monument boundaries in one place jeopardizes other places revered by sportsmen and women such as Browns Canyon in Colorado and Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana. What good is a conservation designation for public land that can be curtailed or eliminated at the whim of a future administration?”

A statistical analysis of comments made on Interior Secretary Zinke's charge to review national monuments to determine if some are too big or shouldn't be monuments at all indicates that 98 percent of the comments are in support of leaving the monuments as they are, or even enlarging them. In his memo, however, the secretary said 2.6 million of the 2.8 million comments received were generated by NGOs, and that local communities and landowners lacked the resources to match that effort.

Democrats in the House of Representatives in May sent Secretary Zinke a letter to say President Trump has no authority to tinker with the boundaries of monuments. Citing Article IV of the United States Constitution, 86 members of the House pointed out in a letter to the secretary that “the Congress shall have the Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States …”

In light of that constitutional authority, and more pressing issues such as drought, wildfire, invasive species, and maintenance needs across the public landscape, “developing a report to the President regarding the use of authority he does not possess is a misuse of your time and the public’s money.”

“These are places that speak to our values, and have been enjoyed by all Americans," Ms. Pierno said Sunday night in her reaction. "They protect incredible canyons, rivers, forests, oceans and even ancient artifacts that were being looted. If this administration goes through with these plans and allows mining, oil and gas development and timber harvesting, they will be sacrificing our culture, our history and our outdoor heritage for potential short-term gains. Generations to come will judge them for this shortsightedness.

“Secretary Zinke has forgotten one very important thing in all of this: the American people. These places belong to all of us and today the administration, through an unnecessary and arbitrary review process, has dismissed more than 2.8 million American voices who asked that these incredible places remain protected."

Since 1906, 16 U.S. Presidents, representing both political parties, have designated more than 150 national monuments using the Antiquities Act. From Acadia to Zion, to the Statue of Liberty, many of the country's most iconic national parks were first protected using the Antiquities Act.

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The draft memo has been posted on documentcloud:



tomp2, thank you for the link to the Post of the the leaked copy, which you call a draft, of the Zinke recommendations to President Trump on the national monuments. 

Through no fault of you own, it is an untruth that this is a "draft" document.

The Trump Executive Order directed Mr. Zinke to submit recommendations to the President.  These are the recommendations as directed. The document calls them "Final" Zinke recommendations.  This is not a draft.

And it is not set up as a "deliberative" document or a decision document for the President. There are no options. The opinions of the vast majority of Americans are dismissed in one sentence and NEVER offered as alternatives the way a deliberative decision document would. These are straight up recommendations, as directed. Not a draft, not deliberative, just that those are the two prime allowed justifications for keeping a non-classified report hidden.

The only reason for the untruth is to hide the document from public review.

That untruth is particularly galling since the report goes on  and on about a lack of transparency in the way national monuments were proclaimed by President Obama and President Clinton. 

And then they deliberately stamp it "Draft deliberative-not for distribution" to make sure it is not transparent, except for the intervention of the Washington Post to pull the document from the darkness.

And, another untruth -- in this response to his President ! -- is that the national monuments were not transparently reviewed by the public, in advance. 

They got a lot of public review, unlike this Final report, Mr Zinke calls a 'draft, just to keep the recommendations from you,

 And here is another untruth

when Mr. Zinke tells the President that the Antiquities Acts gives him the authority to amend the policies and boundaries of the national monument.  Zinke tells the President, the "discretion [is] GRANTED by the Act. (emphasis added) "Granted" by the Antiquities Act?  

"GRANTED ???" 


This 'authority' is never, ever even mentioned in the Antiquities Act ! 

It is certainly not 'granted.'  Not one word is in the Antiquities Act about granting authority to make a National Monument smaller, or changing (as recommended here) a bunch of policies that apply to National Monuments. 

And there is lots more dishonesty throughout this report.  Maybe that's why they embargoed it; but when you consider the President must rely on his Secretary to tell him the truth. . . .

But the worst untruth is telling the President he has the authority to authorize lumbering in a National Park System National Monument, and that logging is necessary to keep the National Monument heathy. 

THAT one is right out of Alice in Wonderland.

Secretary Zinke earns an "F" Grade with this farce, and a competent President would either tell him to re-do this report or fire him on the spot.

But we don't have a competent President.  Let's Make America Sane Again next time we cast our ballots. 

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