Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Zinke's menu of Bears Ears options comes with heartburn

Jennifer Yachnin, E&E News reporter

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is set to issue preliminary recommendations for the future of Bears Ears National Monument to the White House this week — but conservationists and Democrats are threatening legal action unless any changes are considered by Congress. During a visit last month to Utah, where he toured both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Zinke asserted that national monument status may not be the "right vehicle" to protect the 1.35-million-acre site designated by President Obama late last year. "All of the above," Zinke said last month in response to which alternatives he expected to recommend to President Trump about Bears Ears. "The president has given me the flexibility to make a recommendation to him, and we have a lot of options" (Greenwire, May 10). But Zinke ruled out seeking national park status for any of the lands — an option that would need to be pursued by Congress. That leaves him weighing a host of tricky recommendations, from other measures that would need to wind their way across Capitol Hill to contentious executive actions. To avoid a legal battle, Zinke could recommend that Congress pursue changes to the Bears Ears monument. But that would spur a political fight. Utah lawmakers have already made a failed attempt to address the area via legislation known as the Utah Public Lands Initiative. In the event Zinke does recommend that Congress pursue changes to the monument, observers both on and off the Hill pointed to House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop's (R) former Public Lands Initiative as a potential model. Conservative scholars at the Pacific Legal Foundation and American Enterprise Institute have suggested that the Trump administration has more options than simply seeking congressional assistance. While past presidents have reduced the size of some monuments — President Kennedy was the last president to do so when he modified Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico — legal experts note that those decisions occurred before the enactment of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) and suggest such changes are no longer allowable. But should Zinke opt to recommend that Trump undo the Bears Ears designation — and likely trigger a legal battle should the president act on that advice — the Interior Department would likely turn to administrative options for redesignating the 1.35-million-acre site. That means "basically treating them as multiple-use lands," said Pidot, who emphasized that he was speaking hypothetically because he believes such a switch would be illegal given the monument's existing designation under the Antiquities Act...more

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