For Governors, Zinke’s National Monument Recommendations Remain a Mystery

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Shutterstock


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“Our staff has been actively requesting the information from the Interior Department, as well as the White House, and we have not yet received it,” according to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s press secretary.

Governors’ offices in at least four states with national monuments covered by a review President Trump ordered have not received details about recommendations Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted to the president last week for how those public lands may be altered.

Zinke sent a draft report to the president last Thursday with recommendations involving national monuments in six western states. Each monument covers between 100,000 and 1.7 million acres. But public details about what’s in Zinke’s report to the president are sparse.

The Interior secretary told The Associated Press last week that he would suggest changes to a “handful” of monuments.

He also said he would not urge Trump to eliminate any monuments entirely.

The governors of Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah, where 11 of the monuments now under review are located, have not received specifics about the secretary’s recommendations, spokespeople for those governors said on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Our staff has been actively requesting the information from the Interior Department, as well as the White House, and we have not yet received it,” Bryan Hockaday​, press secretary for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, said by phone on Tuesday, as he discussed Zinke’s recommendations.

Nevada and New Mexico each have two monuments covered by the review. The governors’ offices in those two states did not respond to messages seeking comment.

A White House official told Route Fifty last Friday that Trump was reviewing Zinke’s draft report and that a final version would be released sometime in the “next few weeks.”

Conservation and tribal groups have voiced concerns that the secretary’s proposals will call for the monuments to be significantly scaled back, or to be opened to currently prohibited activities, like mining, oil and gas drilling or logging. Larger-sized national monuments in the West encompass a wide variety of terrain, such as mountains, forests and desert, as well as cultural sites.

Citing multiple individuals briefed on the review, The Washington Post last week reported that Zinke had recommended reducing the size of at least three monuments: Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Cascade-Siskiyou, located mostly in Oregon.

If the recommended changes involve Bears Ears, it would not come as a surprise.

Zinke in June issued a preliminary report recommending that the monument be downsized. He also suggested that Congress should designate recreation or conservation areas within the current boundaries of the monument and authorize tribal co-management of certain areas.

Bears Ears is roughly 1.3 million acres and was established by then-President Barack Obama last year during the final weeks of his term. The monument has drawn the ire of Utah Republicans in Congress, and at the state level, who say the designation is an example of executive overreach.

Kirsten Rappleye, a spokesperson for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said by text message on Wednesday that Herbert had talked to Zinke last week. But she also said the governor’s office had not received any information about Zinke’s specific recommendations beyond what was announced publicly last week and what was in the Bears Ears report in June.

Grand Staircase-Escalante, the other Utah monument covered by the review, is about 1.7 million acres and was established by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Brian Ferguson, deputy press secretary for California Gov. Jerry Brown said the governor’s office had not been informed what is, or is not, in Zinke’s draft report.

Brown wrote to the secretary in July to voice opposition to making any changes to the boundaries or designations of any of California’s national monuments.

The five monuments currently covered by the review in California include Berryessa Snow Mountain, Carrizo Plain, Giant Sequoia, Mojave Trails and the San Gabriel Mountains. These public lands cover a combined total of about 2.8 million acres in the state.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesperson for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, said he wasn’t aware of the Interior Department or the Trump administration sharing any information about the recommendations in Zinke’s report with the governor’s office. Three monuments now included in the review that are located in Arizona are: Ironwood Forest, Sonoran Desert and Vermilion Cliffs.

The Interior Department initially listed 27 national monuments that were part of the review, which Trump called for in an executive order issued in April.

Five are marine monuments, which encompass ocean waters.

Six were removed from the review prior to last Thursday.

The removed monuments include: Craters of the Moon, in Idaho; Hanford Reach, in Washington; Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana; Grand Canyon-Parashant, in Arizona; Canyons of the Ancients, in Colorado; and Sand to Snow in California.

Katahdin Woods and Waters, in Maine, was also included in the review process.

Lucas St. Clair, who spearheaded an effort to get the monument designated, told The Associated Press this week he was feeling optimistic after speaking with Zinke by phone. St. Clair is the son of Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, who acquired land that is included in the 87,563-acre national monument, which was also established by Obama.

Gov. Kate Brown met with Zinke about a month ago when he visited Oregon to tour Cascade-Siskiyou, a 100,000-acre area, which includes the remnants of an ancient volcano and the 24,100 Soda Mountain Wilderness where motorized activities are prohibited.

“Every indication that we got from Zinke, both when we met with him, and from some of his other public statements, does seem to suggest that he will scale back the monument,” Hockaday​ said of Cascade-Siskiyou.

“We’re unclear whether that’s a boundary change, or a change to the management,” he added.

There’s disagreement among experts over whether Trump himself has the legal authority to drastically revise monuments that previous presidents have designated. His predecessors have established and expanded the sites using their authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Hockaday said that Brown, a Democrat, has asked the Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, to look into legal options for challenging proposed changes to Cascade-Siskiyou​.

Correction: Due to a typo, a previous version of this article was briefly posted online that said The Washington Post last week reported that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had "not" recommended reducing the size of the Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Cascade-Siskiyou national monuments. The opposite was the case. The article has been updated to correct the error.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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