US Interior chief recommends shrinking Utah's Bears Ears monument

While acknowledging some parts of Bears Ears include Native American artifacts, traditional gathering places, archeological sites, and rock art, Zinke says those areas should be identified and separated, with other sites given other designations or offered for activities like timber harvest or mining.

The Bears Ears recommendation is part of a Trump administration "review" of 27 national monuments across more than 1 billion acres of America's most spectacular, culturally important and ecologically intact public lands and oceans.

He indicated that the actual Bears Ears geological structure, numerous historic tribal dwellings and historic artifacts in proximity to the structure, and the area of Newspaper Rocks and north would all likely be kept as national monument land. These politicians have had the ears of the president and have been aiming for a revocation of protections since November when Trump was elected. They also say it isn't the best way to protect the land. Not only is this entire national monument review process unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer dollars, President Trump does not have the legal authority to act on these recommendations. That's what took Zinke on his travels to Utah. Legal scholars and lawyers are largely in agreement that any attempt to amend or eliminate the monument designation of a previous president would constitute a violation of the Antiquities Act, unless Congress were to amend the act directly to give the president such authority. This maneuver clearly exposes the actual motivation behind the review: to erode protections for these lands and open them up for extractive degradation and private profit.

But even if we are forced to go to court, Americans across the country must share in the defense of our public lands.

"There is no doubt that there are historic and prehistoric structures and other objects of interest or scientific interest within the Bears Ears monument", Zinke said. He also said he supports Native American efforts to restore "sovereignty, respect and self-determination" on land considered sacred by the tribes.

Experts questioned the president's authority to change a standing monument's designation, but they said Congress has full authority to modify, revoke or rescind a national monument.

Utah's Republican governor, Gary Herbert, echoed Hatch's remarks. He did not specify any pending recommendations for monuments in New Mexico or elsewhere.

A coalition of tribes, environmentalists, outdoor recreation businesses and academics had pressed for the designation because some of the area's more than 100,000 archaeological sites have been damaged in recent years by vandalism, off-road vehicle use and looting.

Monday morning CNN reported Secretary Zinke will be delaying his decision. As President Theodore Roosevelt said in proclaiming the 800,000-acre Grand Canyon National Monument under the Antiquities Act, "Leave it just as it is". The monument encompasses an area rich with Native American cultural and archeological sites, preserved in a stunningly handsome natural landscape. All options remain on the table for the monuments under review.

Maine's attorney general has threatened to sue the Trump administration if it kills former President Barack Obama's order creating a new national park.

  • Rogelio Becker