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See the Wild Places That May Lose Protections as National Monuments

Four protected areas could shrink and six others could be opened to mining, logging, and fishing, based on new recommendations to President Trump.

Four national monuments in the American West could be shrunk and six others opened up to permit more mining, grazing, logging, and commercial fishing if President Trump follows the recommendations of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

The monuments recommended for downsizing include red rock canyons in Utah, forest and grassland in Oregon, and stunning rock formations in Nevada.

If enacted, the modifications would represent the most sweeping changes to existing national monuments by any sitting president — and are sure to set off a legal battle over presidential powers likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dropping Into Utah’s Captivating Canyons Our team ventures to the far southwest corner of Utah to discover the hidden secrets and natural wonders of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Zinke’s advice is contained in a 19-page memorandum sent to the president late last month, after a review of 27 monuments at least 100,000 acres or more in size. Both the White House and Zinke had declined to make the memorandum public. The Washington Post published a leaked copy online Sunday night.

Monuments that would be shrunk include Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah, Gold Butte in Nevada, and Cascade-Siskiyou, straddling the Oregon-California border. The memorandum does not provide figures suggesting how much acreage in the four monuments should be eliminated.

Additionally, Zinke recommended management changes in six other monuments to permit commercial activities and other “traditional uses” that are now restricted. That would allow logging, or “active timber management,” in Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, and road upgrades and Defense and Homeland Security activities in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico. Three marine monuments—Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll in the Pacific, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic—would be opened up to commercial fishing.

The White House declined to discuss the memorandum and told the Post that the Trump administration does not comment on leaked documents.

Power to create

The 1906 Antiquities Act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, gives the president broad authority to create national monuments.The law survived an early court test challenging the president’s ability to determine monument size, after mining interests argued that the national monument Roosevelt created in 1907 to protect the Grand Canyon was too large. The Supreme Court found that Roosevelt had not overstepped.

Since then, presidents have downsized 18 monuments, most with minor adjustments. The exception is the 639,000-acre Mount Olympus National Monument, created by Roosevelt in 1909 and cut in half by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915 to keep a supply of timber flowing to build Navy ships for World War I. None of these prior resizings were challenged in court, and that is the legal question to be answered if Trump acts.

“Gutting protections and changing boundaries for national monuments would be a sad chapter in our country’s history,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The president does not have the legal authority to change national monument designations, and we’re prepared to take legal action to defend them.”

MONUMENTS FACE CHANGES

The Department of the Interior manages one-fifth of

all land in the United States, including National

Monuments. Under executive order by President

Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended:

 

ALASKA

 

(U.S.)

UNITED

STATES

below

4 monuments to reduce in size

6 monuments to change management practices

17 monuments to remain unchanged

(U.S.)

HAWAII

WASH.

MONTANA

MAINE

OREGON

IDAHO

UNITED

NEVADA

UTAH

CALIF.

COLORADO

STATES

ARIZ.

NEW

MEXICO

Federal land

Native American reservation

National Monument under review

MONUMENTS

FACE CHANGES

The Department of the Interior manages one-fifth of all land in the United States, including National Monuments. Under an executive order issued by President Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended:

 

4 monuments to reduce in size

6 monuments to change management practices

17 monuments to remain unchanged

ALASKA

 

(U.S.)

UNITED

STATES

below

(U.S.)

HAWAII

WASH.

MONTANA

IDAHO

OREGON

UTAH

NEVADA

COLORADO

CALIF.

NEW

MEXICO

ARIZONA

Federal land

Native American land

National Monument under review

Tap list for maps and more information.

Click list for maps and more information.

National Monuments recommended to reduce in size:

Created in 2000 by President Clinton, the 100,000-acre monument straddles the Oregon-California border region of the Cascade Range and protects habitat for a diverse array of species, including the threatened spotted owl, the pileated woodpecker and the pygmy nuthatch.

Created in 2016 by President Obama, this 296,940-acre landscape of red sandstone formations fills in the gap between the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Virgin Mountains, creating a continuous wildlife corridor for large animals, including bighorn sheep and mountain lions.

Created in 1996 by President Clinton, this series of cliffs and plateaus descends in multi-colored stair-steps over 1.7 million acres reaching from Bryce Canyon in southwest Utah to the Grand Canyon. The monument also protects paleontological and tribal archeological sites, as well as 300 animal species, including the endangered desert tortoise.

Created in 2016 by President Obama and named for two buttes that jut above the ridgeline, Bears Ears encompasses 1.35 million acres in southern Utah’s red rock country and protects cliff dwellings and one of the West’s largest collections of tribal artifacts.

National Monuments recommended to change management practices:

Created in 2013 by President Obama in northern New Mexico, this high desert landscape reaches across 242,500 acres of the Río Grande River Gorge and features deep canyons and volcanic cones. The monument protects numerous collections of tribal artifacts and serves as a major migratory flyway for sandhill cranes, herons, avocets, hummingbirds, and Canada geese.

Created in 2014 by President Obama, this monument includes 496,000 acres across southern New Mexico with a rich history dating to the Folsom and Clovis cultures and six wilderness study areas under protection since 1980.

Created in 2016 by President Obama in the wilds of north central Maine, this 87,500-acre collection of streams, rivers, forests and trails lies within a larger landscape that public and private efforts have worked for a century to protect.

Created by President Bush in 2009 and enlarged by President Obama in 2014, the Pacific Ocean 490,000-square-mile monument is the world’s largest marine conservation area and one of the last refuges protecting many animals and fish, including turtles, sharks, dolphins, whales, parrotfish, large grouper, and pearl oysters.

Rose Atoll Marine Created in 2009 by President Bush, this South Pacific Ocean monument protects 13,400 square miles of rare and endangered marine animals and seabirds, including giant clams, parrotfishes, sharks, whales the largest Eer of nesting turtles in American Samoa—as well as the Rose Atoll Wildlife Refuge, created in 1973 to protect the rose-colored corals for which it was named.

Created in 2016 by President Obama, the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean contains some of the world’s oldest deep sea canyons and extinct volcanoes. It extends for 4,913 square miles off New England and protects Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and sperm, fin and sei whales.

National Monuments recommended to remain unchanged:

Created in 2000 by President Clinton in eastern Washington, the monument once served as a 194,000-acre buffer zone around the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in eastern Washington state. It protects one of the last large shrub-steppe ecosystems in the Columbia River Basin.

Created in 2017 by President Clinton, the monument encompasses 377,000 acres along a 149-mile stretch of the Missouri River in central Montana and includes parts of the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail that remain as wild as they were in 1805.

Created in 1924 by President Coolidge, enlarged slightly by President Kennedy in 1962 and then expansively by President Clinton in 2000. Idaho lawmakers have proposed that Congress designate the original 54,000 acres of this 738,000-acre moonscape of lava beds and cinder cones as Idaho’s only national park.

Created by President Obama in 2015 in northern California, this 331,000-acre monument reaches from Pacific Ocean beaches to the 7,000-foot mountains of the Inner Coastal Range. It protects ancient Native American settlement sites and provides winter habitat for bald eagles.

Created in 2000 by President Clinton in central California, this 328,000-acre expanse is split between two sections directly north and south of Sequoia National Park, and protects 33 groves of the world’s largest tree.

Created in 2001 by President Clinton, this 204,000-acre vista is one of the last intact parts of the grassy plain that covered California’s Central Valley two centuries before settlers arrived. The monument features abundant springtime wildflowers and one of Southern California’s largest wetlands.

Created in 2014 by President Obama in the mountain forests of Southern California, this 346,000-acre “island of green” provides 70 percent of the open space and 30 percent of the drinking water for 15 million people in the Los Angeles Basin.

Created in 2016 by President Obama, the 87,500-acre monument added 54,000 acres to a 100,000-acre wilderness area in Southern California already protected by Congress. This desert-to-mountain terrain is home to more than 240 species of birds and 12 threatened or endangered animals.

Created in 2016 by President Obama, this undeveloped stretch of famed Route 66 in Southern California expands a 350,000-acre wilderness area set up by Congress into a 1.6-million-acre expanse of dramatic sand dunes and ancient lava flows.

Created in 2015 by President Obama in southeastern Nevada, the monument extends over 704,000 acres of some of the most rugged terrain in the Great Basin Desert and protects prehistoric rock art dating back 4,000 years.

Created by in 2000 by President Clinton, the monument spans just over 1 million acres of roadless, undeveloped and remote land along the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It protects dramatic geologic formations of cliffs and buttes that feature fossils and tribal artifacts dating to the ice age.

Created in 2000 by President Clinton, this 293,000-acre geologic treasure of trails leading through spectacularly colored rock strata lies northeast of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Endangered California condor hatchlings bred in captivity are released here to live.

Created by President Clinton in 2001 in southern Arizona, the monument extends over 487,000 acres of mountains and thick forests of saguaro cactus in North America’s most biologically diverse desert. It also protects archaeological sites and remnants of historic trails.

Created in 2000 by President Clinton, this 129,000-acre vista lies in the Silver Bell Mountains in southern Arizona. It protects one of the densest forests of ironwood trees, which can live for 800 years.

Created in 2000 by President Clinton, the monument spans 175,160 acres in southwest Colorado. It protects archaeological sites dating back 10,000 years, and is home to many desert species including peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks and golden eagles.   

Created in 2009 by President Obama in the western Pacific Ocean, the monument reaches for 95,216 square miles across a string of 14 volcanic islands known as the Mariana Archipelago. It supports a richly diverse array of sea life and formations, including the largest mud volcanoes on Earth.

Created by President Bush in 2006 and enlarged by President Obama in 2016 in the Pacific Ocean, this 583,000 square-mile expanse is the world’s largest protected area. One fourth of the 7,000 species of marine animals and seabirds that live in the monument are not found anywhere else.

The legal battle over the Grand Canyon involved 818,560 acres—an immense size in 1907, but considerably smaller than the 1.35 million acres set aside for Bears Ears and the 1.8 million acres that became the Grand Staircase Escalante. Those two large monuments in southern Utah’s Red Rock country are so controversial they triggered Trump’s call for the review of monuments at least 100,000 acres in size created since 1996. Clinton established Grand Staircase in 1996, and Obama established Bears Ears in 2016.

Trump characterized the monuments created by Obama as an “egregious abuse of power.”

The Grand Staircase boundaries were altered and ratified by Congress, which raises questions about the president’s ability to redraw the monument’s boundaries.

“Because the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was essentially ratified by Congress when it approved a massive land exchange with the state of Utah, any presidential action to alter the boundaries of this monument raises additional legal issues about the President’s authority to override congressional action,” says Robert Keiter, director of the Wallace Stegner Center for Lance, Resources and the Environment at the University of Utah law school.

Regardless of the legal questions relating to presidential powers, Congress has the authority to create national monuments or make any changes, including abolishing them.

Zinke, who fashions himself as the modern-day protector of Roosevelt’s conservation legacy, said at the outset of his monument inspection tour that the Utah monuments, as well as other monuments created by Trump’s three immediate predecessors, were examples of presidential overreach.

Aside from their size, Zinke found other faults with the creation of the 10 monuments.

“It appears that certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining, and timber production rather than to protect specific objects,” Zinke wrote in his memorandum. “In regard to grazing, while it is uncommon for proclamations to prohibit grazing outright, restrictions resulting from monument designation activities such as vegetative management can have the indirect result of hindering livestock-grazing uses.”

Bears Ears: Sacred and Stunning National Monument

Never heard of Bears Ears? You may be missing one of the western U.S.'s most scenic places. A desert landscape of raw beauty and immeasurable cultural value in Utah, the area received designation as a national monument by President Obama. The status provided increased protection for the area’s wildlife, as well as for its historic Native American dwellings and petroglyphs.

Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer in residence, said the recommendation to open the marine monuments to commercial fishing hampers the ability to restore fisheries—one of the reasons the marine monuments were set up. The Pacific monuments were set up by President George W. Bush and expanded by Obama. After Obama created the Atlantic monument, five commercial fishing groups sued in federal court. The suit is now on hold until Trump’s review is finalized.

“The Hawaii tuna fleet does not need to fish within the Pacific Remote Islands,” he says. “Before the expansion of the monument in 2014, less than five percent of the catch was taken within that area. Tuna grow and reproduce more when they have a refuge, thus helping to replenish fisheries around no-take areas. Last year the Hawaii fleet had their most profitable year. That shows the marine monuments work not only for marine life, but also help fishing. Opening them up to fishing is like spending away the principal of their investment account.” .

In Utah, Obama established Bears Ears to protect one of the largest collections of tribal artifacts in the nation. Utah lawmakers also had considered a state plan, which at one point included more than one million acres. But after Bears Ears became a national monument, the Utah legislature passed a resolution earlier this year, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, calling for the monument to be completely abolished.

Utah maps submitted by state officials to the Interior Department for Zinke’s review suggested that Bears Ears be reduced by 90 percent, to just 120,000 acres, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported.

Leaders of the five Native American tribes that joined together to push for the creation of Bears Ears were especially harsh in their criticism. The state proposal, Navajo Nation president Russell Begaye told the Tribune, “demonstrates their failure to listen to the concerns of our people who have lobbied and fought for over 80 years for this designation. Now that we finally have achieved that, we want to keep the designation as it is.”