Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending that four large national monuments in the West be reduced in size, potentially opening up hundreds of thousands of acres of land revered for natural beauty and historical significance to mining, logging and other development.
The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is not listed for any changes.
As well as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, the government is considering the downsizing or relaxing of regulations on Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou, Nevada's Gold Butte, Maine's Katahdin, New Mexico's Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte. He also wants to see commercial fishing return to two marine monuments, including the Pacific Remote Islands, the world's largest marine reserve. That memo was obtained by news organizations that included the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press and the Washington Post.
Zinke's memorandum prioritized making sure that monument proclamations meet the wishes of local industries, arguing that "it appears that certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining and timber production rather than to protect specific objects".
They are not as protected as USA national parks, but some have limits on mining, timber cutting and recreational activities such as off-road vehicles.
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The monuments under review were designated by four presidents over the last two decades. Grand Staircase-Escalante, in southern Utah, includes almost 1.9 million acres in a sweeping vista larger than the state of Delaware.
No other president has tried to eliminate a monument, but some have trimmed and redrawn boundaries 18 times, according to the National Park Service. The recommendations urged Trump to amend monument proclamations "to protect objects and prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades, fix and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights".
"We will not allow these special lands and waters to be handed over to private interests for drilling, commercial fishing, logging, and other extraction". It was not clear from the memo how much energy development would be allowed on the sites recommended for changes, although the memo cites increased public access as a key goal.
Zinke's recommendations were revealed in a leaked memo submitted to the White House.
Utah's congressional delegation strongly supports either rescinding or modifying the Bears Ears National monument designation.
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The review raised alarm among conservationists who said protections could be lost for areas that are home to ancient cliff dwellings, towering sequoia trees, deep canyons and ocean habitats. "We believe the Trump administration has no legal authority to alter or erase protections for national treasures".
The sun peeks around "Bears Ears #1" in the Bears Ears National Monument on May 11, 2017, outside Blanding, Utah.
The president could also send the recommendations to Congress and request that lawmakers make the adjustments.
"Acting on these recommendations would represent an unprecedented assault on our parks and public lands, and undermine bipartisan progress to protect our lands and waters that dates to Theodore Roosevelt", said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society. But while he said the recommendation "basically says we should continue to do exactly what we are doing", St. Clair said it all depends on how the Trump administration implements the vague language within the report.
The Wilderness Society, a land conservation and environment group, suggested that if Zinke's overall report recommendations are finalized the matter could end up in court.
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