Tribes, ranchers and conservationists are seeking answers after the administration of US President Donald Trump kept a list of recommendations under wraps for national monuments that were reviewed.
US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke told reporters that none of the 27 monuments would be rescinded, but he said he would push for boundary changes on a “handful” and left open the possibility of allowing drilling, mining or other industries on the sites, as well as fishing in waters ordered protected by former US President Barack Obama.
The White House said only that it received Zinke’s recommendations on Thursday, a deadline set months ago.
It did not make them public or offer a timetable for when it would take action.
Zinke previously said in a trickle of announcements this summer that no changes would be made at six monuments under review in Montana, Colorado, Idaho, California, Arizona and Washington and that Bears Ears on tribal lands in Utah would be downsized.
Conservationists and tribal leaders said Zinke’s recommendations should be fully disclosed and vowed to challenge attempts to shrink any monuments.
Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president of Oceana, which has been pushing for preservation of five marine monuments included in the review, said that simply saying “changes” are coming does not reveal any real information.
“A change can be a small tweak or near annihilation,” Savitz said. “The public has a right to know.”
Groups that consider the millions of hectares designated for protection by previous US presidents, including Obama, part of a massive federal land grab voiced optimism that Zinke wants to reign in some areas.
However, they also expressed disappointment that the full report was not available.
“It was kind of the unmonumental monument announcement,” said Kathleen Sgamma, of the oil industry trade group Western Energy Alliance.
Sgamma’s group is among the organizations that hope the review spurs reform of the 1906 US Antiquities Act, the law that gives presidents power to unilaterally create national monuments.
Zinke said in a short summary report that he found the creation of some of the monuments was arbitrary or politically motivated.
If Trump adopts Zinke’s recommendations, it could placate those who say that vast public lands and marine areas could be stripped of federal protection.
However, significant reductions in the size of the monuments or changes in what activities are allowed on them could trigger fierce resistance, including lawsuits.
A tribal coalition that pushed for the creation of the 5,400km2 Bears Ears monument on what it considers sacred land said it is prepared to launch a legal fight against even a slight reduction in its size.
“Our tribes stand together and are willing to go into battle in terms of litigation,” said Davis Filfred, a council delegate for the Navajo Nation council.
New England commercial fishing groups say they are hopeful they will get back rights to fish in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, an area off the coast of New England designated last year for protection by Obama.
The marine monuments encompass more than 880,000km2 and include four sites in the Pacific Ocean and an array of underwater canyons and mountains off New England.
Utah State Representative Mike Noel, who has pushed to rescind the designation of Bears Ears as a monument, said he could live with a rollback of its boundaries.
He said that a good compromise would enable continued tourism while still allowing activities that locals have pursued for generations — logging, livestock grazing and oil and gas drilling.
Other monuments that might see changes include the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument in the Utah desert, consisting of cliffs, canyons, natural arches and archeological sites, including rock paintings; Katahdin Woods and Waters, 352km2 of forest of northern Maine; and Cascade Siskiyou, a 404km2 region where three mountain ranges converge in Oregon.
Zinke suggested that the same presidential proclamation process used by four presidents over two decades to create the monuments could be used to enact changes.
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