Despite public dissent, Interior Secretary Zinke recommends shrinking four national monuments

Credit: Tim Peterson

Capping a four-month review of 27 national monuments created since 1996, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivered a report to President Trump that recommends shrinking at least three of the nation’s monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, both in Utah, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Of the nearly three million comments submitted to the DOI during the review, most favored protecting these ecologically and culturally important sites. And for some reason, the Trump administration has not given the public access to the report yet. Those briefed on Zinke’s decisions say, if enacted, Bears Ears—the protected public land that local tribes cite as a sacred space—would diminish to just a fraction of what the 1.35 million–acre monument is today. 

What’s not clear, though, is whether presidents actually have the power to shrink or eliminate monuments. Scholars have debated the issue since the Antiquities Act was established in 1906, and in 1938, the U.S. attorney general opined that the law allowed presidents to designate a monument but not abolish one. Congress might have such authority, but at least one member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Maria Cantwell, is not down with any of it. “Teddy Roosevelt would roll over in his grave if he could see what Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are trying to do to our national treasures today,” she told the Washington Post. “Zinke’s secret report to the president is the latest step in a rigged process to try and turn over our public lands to oil and gas companies.”

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