Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released his suggestions yesterday (June 12) on what President Donald Trump should do with the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. One involves shrinking the national designation on the 1.35 million acre area.
Bear Ears has been controversial for some time: When former President Barack Obama designated it a national monument in December 2016, environmentalists and many tribes affiliated with the historic area cheered the decision. It would protect the signature cliff dwellings of the ancient Native Pueblo people and pictograph- and petroglyph-covered walls within the land. Industry interests and state lawmakers like Sen. Mike Lee (along with their constituents), on the other hand, met the decision with anger because of how the order would limit the area’s land use.
Part of this controversy pushed Trump to sign an executive order April 26 directing Zinke to review the Antiquities Act and certain national monument designations before this administration. The interim report has come 45 days since that signing, as ordered.
“I spent a lot of time on the ground in Utah, talking with people and understanding the natural and cultural significance of the area,” said Zinke, in a statement. “There is no doubt that it is drop-dead gorgeous country and that it merits some degree of protection, but designating a monument that, including state land, encompasses almost 1.5 million-acres where multiple-use management is hindered or prohibited is not the best use of the land and is not in accordance with the intention of the Antiquities Act.”
Zinke noted that tribal nations should co-manage some of the land. Still, some tribal nations have met his recommendation with hostility, as they want to see the entire area protected. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, made up of five sovereign Native nations that have ties to the site and with whom Zinke met, alleges on its website that the secretary’s move was illegal. The administration is likely to encounter legal pushback if it decides to reduce the monument’s size.
The coalition also wrote:
The Bears Ears region is not a series of isolated objects, but the object itself, a connected, living landscape, where the place, not a collection of items, must be protected. You cannot reduce the size without harming the whole. Bears Ears is too precious a place, and our cultures and values too dignified and worthy, to backtrack on the promises made in the Presidential Proclamation.
The secretary’s decision comes after he spent four days in May traveling through the area to learn more about the monument. His final decision regarding the monument will come later this summer. A public comment period for the monument is extended through July 10 before Zinke issues his final report.