DESERET NEWS 9-18-17 Leaked memo details monument changes

Sep 18, 2017
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
FILE - The Arch canyon area of Bears Ears as Media members get a chance to fly over the Bears Ears National Monument with EcoFLIGHT on Monday, May 8, 2017. National media outlets obtained a leaked, draft document from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to President Donald Trump containing recommendations on 10 national monument designations, including changes for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

SALT LAKE CITY — A leaked copy of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's memo to President Donald Trump details a list of recommendations for 10 monuments, including boundary revisions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

The memo obtained by the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and other national media outlets contains recommendations on boundary revisions to four land monuments and restoration of prohibited activities such as timber harvesting at other monuments in the West.

There had been no official announcement by the White House on Monday afternoon about what plans may be in store for monuments that came under Zinke's review as a result of Trump's April 26 executive order. Zinke has only publicly released an executive summary about his report that he gave to the president Aug. 24.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, criticized the monument leak.

"The fact this was leaked is troubling and merits an immediate and thorough investigation," Bishop said in a statement. "The president should have the time to evaluate the secretary’s review and develop actions without the encumbrance of incomplete information being leaked to the press."

The leaked documents, termed as "draft deliberative and not for distribution," includes 10 pages of background and summary, including the reasons for Zinke's 120-day review.

There are no specific acreage amounts listed in the leaked memo.

Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature signed off on a resolution earlier this year urging the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument be reduced to about one-tenth its size — 200,000 acres.

While there was also political pressure to rescind the more recently designated Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County, Zinke earlier this summer simply said it should be reduced in size.

On Bears Ears specifically, the document says boundary revisions should continue to protect objects and ensure the size is conducive for that protection. It urges the president to request congressional authority to enable tribal co-management of designated cultural areas inside the monument, and also urges Congress to make "more appropriate" designations for the landscape, such as national conservation or recreation areas.

It notes that the monument's management plan should prioritize public access, infrastructure upgrades, tribal, traditional and cultural uses, and preserve hunting and fishing rights.

The document adds that the Interior Department should secure funding for adequate infrastructure and management to effectively protect objects.

On Grand Staircase-Escalante, the document notes that each monument designation under Zinke's review had "some form of public outreach," with the exception of the 1996 designation by then-President Bill Clinton.

It recommends amending the monument proclamation to prioritize public access and notes that access to 1,525 roads in Garfield and Kane counties within the monument are in legal dispute — a conflict the report notes is causing "conflict" with the counties' transportation network, as well as for recreational activities.

The report, too, acknowledges billions of tons of coal deposits within the monument boundaries, as well as large oil deposits.

Multiple environmental groups immediately denounced the recommendations contained in the leaked memo, asserting if Trump takes Zinke's advice, monument protections will be stripped from millions of acres.

"The leak of Secretary Zinke’s secret report to President Trump confirms what has been apparent all along: that Utah’s national monuments are the focus of the Trump administration’s attack on public lands," Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said in a statement.

"(Zinke's) so-called 'review' of national monuments is not only a political charade, but is also a legal farce, completely lacking in substance and rationale. If President Trump attempts to follow through on any of these recommendations, his actions will undoubtedly be overturned by the courts.”

Other organizations echoed that sentiment.

“Zinke and Trump are displaying their disdain for these magnificent public lands and the millions of people who demanded they remain protected," said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Trump has no authority to make any of the changes that Zinke’s recommending. If he tries to, we’ll see him in court."

The governor's office issued a prepared statement but declined to comment further:

"The Department of Interior has not provided our office with the specifics of its formal recommendation to the White House, and we are not going to comment on alleged leaked documents," according to the statement from Herbert's office.

"We appreciate Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s thorough review of the recent use of the Antiquities Act in Utah. Now that his recommendations are in the hands of the president, our office stands ready to answer any questions the White House may have about those recommendations.”

Bishop said the review wouldn't have been necessary if not for abuse of the law by past administrations.

"Now that the designation process is being scrutinized, it’s even more clear that abuses occurred and real problems were left unresolved or ignored," he said.

Matt Anderson, director of the Sutherland Institute's Coalition for Self Government in the West, praised the recommendations in the leaked memo, if they prove true.

"This review is really about getting back to the pure intentions of the Antiquities Act and that is protecting cultural and historic objects," Anderson said.

Pointing specifically to the Bears Ears monument designation, he said the use of the Antiquities Act points to a "broken process that needs to be fixed."

"It's easily argued that this is not about protecting historical or cultural resources. Ulterior motives are driving the process," Anderson said.