First Published Apr 25 2017 05:36PM • Last Updated Apr 25 2017 11:09 pm
Washington • Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke says he will recommend possible action to change the Bears Ears National Monument within 45 days of the executive order President Donald Trump is scheduled to sign on Wednesday, ordering a review of all monument designations over two decades, back to the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument.
Zinke said the executive order will ask for a final report on the monument designations from 1996 forward within four months, but an initial review will focus on President Barack Obama's naming of Bears Ears in late December.
"I think the concern that I have and the president has is that when you designate a monument, the local community should have a voice," Zinke told reporters at the White House.
The interior secretary said that the order will look at about 30 monuments — including those protecting marine areas — and examine possible tweaks to the 1906 Antiquities Act that gives a president unilateral power to set aside public lands as monuments. He said he wasn't sure if at the end of the process he would recommend changes to the law.
"I'm not going to presuppose what the outcome is going to be," Zinke said, adding that he would plan to talk to members of Congress, governors and other stakeholders as part of the review. He also said he would travel to Utah during the next 45 days.
Trump is slated to go to the Interior Department on Wednesday to sign the order, which includes a review of all monuments more than 100,000 acres in size named since Jan. 1, 1996. The review time was chosen to ensure Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was named in September 1996, was included.
Zinke stressed that Trump's order would not strip any monument of a designation or loosen any environmental regulation on current monuments. He said the review was prompted by concerns from members of Congress and states about monument declarations that went against the wishes of local communities and affected public access and the livelihoods of loggers, anglers and ranchers.
"We feel that the public, the people who the monuments affect should be considered," Zinke said, noting that it was "yet another example of the president doing exactly what he is saying" and would restore trust between local communities and Washington.
Utah leaders have been pressing the White House to rescind the Bears Ears designation as well as trim the 1.8 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
A new poll out Tuesday showed a majority of Utahns, 52 percent, support reducing the 1.35 million acres of the Bears Ears monument or jettisoning the designation altogether. Some 41 percent said Trump should not take any action on the monument, according to the poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates and commissioned by UtahPolicy.com.
On Grand Staircase-Escalante, 53 percent of Utahns said Trump should leave that monument alone while 41 percent want it reduced or the designation rescinded.
Sally Jewell, who headed Interior when Bears Ears was named, defended the designation as having gone through a serious review.
"We worked very closely with our scientists, people on the ground, people in the communities that know these landscapes well, the tribes, particularly in case of Bears Ears, that understood what's needed for hunting, gathering and traditional practices and sacred sites. Those shaped the boundaries of these monuments which were very carefully thought out," Jewell said in an interview Tuesday with The Salt Lake Tribune, noting that she had visited Bears Ears on her recent trip back to Seattle after leaving the Obama administration.
Jewell said Interior did everything it could to craft a monument proclamation that protected Bears Ears' cultural resources and natural treasures, while respecting the wishes of San Juan County officials.
San Juan County elected leaders opposed the monument's designation.
"When you get out and look at the resource and listen to the people, including the opponents, a couple things become clear, particularly among tribal members that were against it. They had a lot of misinformation about what they would be allowed to do. That helped us to make sure that was clarified in the proclamation. I am very confident our work will stand the test of time," Jewell said.
Jewell said there's no question the monuments set aside during her time were "legitimate and appropriate in the spirit of the Antiquities Act."