WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday called on President Donald Trump to shrink a total of four national monuments and change the way six other land and marine sites are managed, a sweeping overhaul of how protected areas are maintained in the United States.
Zinke’s final report comes a day after Trump signed proclamations in Utah that downsized two massive national monuments there — Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 46 percent. The president had directed Zinke in April to review 27 national monuments established since 1996 under the Antiquities Act, which gives the president broad authority to safeguard federal lands and waters under threat.
In addition to the Utah sites, Zinke supports cutting Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou, though the exact reductions are still being determined. He also would revise the proclamations for those and the others to clarify that activities such as grazing, motorized vehicle use and commercial fishing should be allowed. The additional monuments affected include Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean; both Rose Atoll and the Pacific Remote Islands in the Pacific Ocean; New Mexico’s Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte; and Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters.
“The Antiquities Act over time has done great things for our country, and it has protected some of our greatest treasures,” he said in a call with reporters. But its power had been “abused,” he said, with monument designations extending far beyond the objects they were designed to protect. Some of the objects defined in past proclamations, he noted, were far too abstract: “Stars, biological diversity, remoteness, emptiness.”
Zinke criticized the federal government’s past action halting motorized vehicle traffic in Cascade-Siskiyou until a transportation plan could be finalized, arguing that it interfered with local cross-country ski operators’ ability to maintain trails.
“It should have been the other way around,” he said.
For several sites, Zinke recommended amending monuments’ proclamation language to ensure that activities such as grazing, hunting and fishing can continue. While these practices often go on even after a presidential designation, Zinke said he wants to make that legality clear because ranchers have felt marginalized and fear they will face future restrictions.
The administration is already facing multiple lawsuits over the president’s decision Monday to scale back both Bears Ears, a sacred tribal site that Barack Obama designated a year ago, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, a reservoir of prehistoric fossils that Bill Clinton established in 1996.
More litigation could be coming. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum warned Zinke in a letter in July the state was “ready to take appropriate legal action” if Trump rescinds or reduces the size of Cascade-Siskiyou.