Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending shrinking the size of at least six national monuments — four on land, and two at sea, The Washington Post reported today. That includes the fiercely contested Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, according to a leaked draft of a memorandum Zinke submitted to the White House. Should President Donald Trump follow the Interior Department’s recommendations, the actions will likely lead to lawsuits.
The recommendations come after the Interior Department’s four-month review of 27 national monuments that were created since 1996. The review, requested by an executive order signed by Trump in April, covered about 553 million acres of land and sea in total. At the end of August, Zinke submitted the review to the White House, but the details were kept secret from the public. Now, the leaked report seems to confirm what environmental groups and tribal leaders feared: Zinke is recommending cuts to national monuments, putting historical sites at risk and reducing safeguards for public lands and waters.
The 19-page report proposes changes to 10 national monuments. Six of them could be shrunk in size, although the report doesn’t say by how much. Protected land and water could also be opened up to logging, fishing, hunting, and mining, while new monuments might be designated.
Here are a few highlights:
Border reductions for four national monuments in the western US:
- Bears Ears, Utah — About 1.35 million acres, designated in 2016 by President Barack Obama.
- Cascade-Siskiyou, Oregon and California — Over 170,000 acres, designated in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, and expanded in 2017 by Obama.
- Gold Butte, Nevada — nearly 300,000 acres, designated in 2016 by Obama.
- Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah — nearly 1.9 million acres, designated in 1996 by Clinton.
Changes to marine monuments:
- Pacific Remote Islands, Central Pacific Ocean — over 490,000 square miles, designated in 2009 by Bush, and expanded in 2014 by Obama. Zinke recommends shrinking the borders of this marine monument and opening it up to commercial fishing.
- Rose Atoll, American Samoa — almost 13,500 square miles, designated in 2009 by President George W. Bush. The memorandum calls for shrinking the size of this marine monument and opening it up to commercial fishing.
- Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Atlantic Ocean — more than 4,900 square miles located about 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, designated in 2016 by Obama. Commercial fishing is currently banned (for everything except red crab and American lobster, which will start being prohibited in about six years). But Zinke is recommending that fishing be allowed.
Opening up land to logging:
- Katahdin Woods and Waters, Maine — roughly 87,500 acres of private land that was donated to the federal government, and designated as a national monument in 2016 by Obama. The memorandum recommends amending the monument’s regulations “to promote a healthy forest through active timber management.”
- Cascade-Siskiyou, Oregon and California. Zinke proposes reducing the borders to permit logging on land protected by the monument’s expansion last year.
- Camp Nelson, Kentucky — a supply depot used by the Union Army during the Civil War that covers 4,000 acres. Camp Nelson was a recruitment and training site for African American soldiers.
- The home of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi. Evers was a civil rights hero and Mississippi’s first field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was murdered outside his home by a white supremacist in 1963.
- Badger-Two Medicine area, Montana — 130,000 acres in Lewis and Clark National Forest. The region is sacred to the Blackfeet Nation.
Should the White House generally agree with Zinke’s recommendations, the Interior Department will submit more detailed suggestions, the report says. While previous presidents have successfully chopped down at least 16 national monuments in the past, any attempts to follow Zinke’s recommendations will probably be unpopular, and will likely be fought with litigation.
“This is very likely to become a legal issue,” Dan Hartinger, the national monuments campaign manager at the Wilderness Society, told The Verge in August. “Whether it’s bighorn sheep hunters in Arizona, business owners in Utah, or tribal leaders in the Navajo Nation,” Hartinger said, “this is something that cuts across partisan and political lines and has a very real impact on people.”