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Interior head suggests reducing Bears Ears National Monument

13 June 2017

Today U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended that Trump shrink the borders Bears Ears and reevaluate its management.

Secretary Zinke's report is the product of a review mandated by President Trump in his late-April Executive Order, which sought to challenge National Monument designations all across the country and erode one of the key conservation tools used by presidents of both parties for the past 100 years - the Antiquities Act.

A final report with recommendations for all 27 monuments, including Bears Ears, identified in the Executive Order is due to Trump on August 24. "President Trump will still need to act on recommendations from the secretary".

Zinke said on a call with reporters Monday that rescinding Bears Ear's status "was an option", but that he believes there are "some antiquities within the monument that deserve protecting".

The report, provided to CNN, suggests revising aspects of Bears Ears' boundaries but does not detail where those changes would be made.

Zinke's proposal basically revives Congressman Rob Bishop's Public Lands Initiative, with legislation in the works for expanding national conservation areas and tinkering with wilderness. He called on Congress to approve a land-management bill for Bears Ears and other federal lands.

In a statement, Zinke said monument designation is "not the best use of the land".

He also extended the public comment period until July 10, 2017. Zinke recommended that the new national monument in Utah be reduced in size and said Congress should step in to designate how selected areas of the 1.3 million-acre site are managed.

Secretary Zinke would not give the number of acres or even a percentage he'd subtract from former President Barack Obama's 1.3 million acre monument designation.

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The review is likely to add fuel to a heated national debate over Washington's role in America's wildest spaces.

But supporters say the act is necessary to protect threatened lands - and that "right-sizing" a designated monument has happened only on handful of times since the act was created in 1906.

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.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, representing oil and gas companies, said Zinke's approach was sensible. Substantially shrinking the boundaries, as today's recommendations, would cut out many of these vital sacred sites and cultural resources, leaving them unprotected from the very destruction the monument is created to prevent.

The secretary traveled last month to the Bears Ears site, which lies within Utah's San Juan County, to listen to the state's politicians and nearby residents who opposed the designation.

The recommendation ignores thousands of public comments in favor of the monument and makes "a mockery of the claimed public process", Williams said. But it's already clear some Native American tribes and environmental groups haven't been won over.

"Protection of these lands are non-negotiable", Branch said.

Under the Antiquities Act, which was created in 1906, the USA president has the unilateral power to declare tracts of land or ocean to be protected.