U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is set to release his suggestions on the size of national monuments established by previous presidents – and for Utahns that means will the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears designation by Barack Obama stand?
Likely it won’t.
Various sources are telling UtahPolicy that Zinke will recommend to GOP President Donald Trump that Bears Ears, established under President Barack Obama, should be significantly reduced in size.
Maybe all the way down to 160,000 acres for the monument itself.
Although Utah officials say, the Bureau of Land Management could adopt special protections for areas larger than that 160,000-acre monument – with the result being greater areas of protections and multiple uses.
If Bears Ears goes from 1.35 million acres – as Obama designated – down to 160,000 acres – the ultimate Trump-approved national monument would be just 11.8 percent as large as the former president wanted.
In any case, a significant reduction by the Trump administration will be a big win for Utah GOP leaders, both Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, the majority GOP Legislature, and the state’s Republican congressional delegation, which has been decrying Obama’s actions since December.
That is when the out-going Democratic president formally adopted the Bears Ears National Monument through the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Any action by Trump against Bear Ears will almost certainly be challenged in federal court – with the U.S. Supreme Court having the last word.
While congressional action has reduced the size of national monuments before, no president has unilaterally cut down the size of a monument created by one of his predecessors.
And while Utah officials and others believe Trump has that authority, any number of environmental and land conservation groups disagree and have threatened litigation.
It was unclear Tuesday if the 160,000-acre Zinke recommendation comes as a single area or a grouping of areas.
UtahPolicy is told that the most sensitive areas in the Bears Ears designation would be protected, like Native American petroglyphs, burial or inhabitation sites and such.
Parts of Bear Ears in southeastern Utah were included in Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative legislation, introduced last year.
The bill didn’t go anywhere – and Obama would have vetoed it if it had passed the last Congress.
Bishop, chair of the House’s Natural Resources Committee, is ready to go after PLI again this Congress.
Weeks ago Trump, with Utah federal and state leaders standing with him, signed an executive order mandating Zinke – a former Montana congressman – conduct a review of all the natural monuments created by presidents over the last 20 years.
Not only did that include Bears Ears, but also the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument created by former Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Some Utah officials, like state Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, wanted Trump to rescind all of Bears Ears and at least some of the Staircase.
In fact, Utah GOP lawmakers rushed several resolutions through January’s Legislature asking Trump and Zinke to do just that.
Now Zinke has apparently finished his formal review and will make recommendations to Trump.
Where it goes from there is unknown, with the president having various battles with his own GOP congressional leaders over a variety of issues – including repeal and replacement of Obamacare.