Following a months-long review ordered by President Donald Trump, the Department of the Interior announced Thursday that it won’t recommend eliminating any national monuments — but it may shrink a few.
Shortly after inauguration, Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the more than two dozen national monuments created since 1996 in order to determine if Presidents Barack Obama, George Bush, and Bill Clinton had exceeded their authority by making them. Zinke told the Associated Press that as a result, he plans to change the boundaries of a “handful” of national monuments, though he didn’t specify which and left open the option that drilling or mining could occur on the sites.
Zinke’s recommendations do not appear in his official report on the review, leaving the public in the dark. Though there’s no official confirmation, the Washington Post reports those monuments include Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
Bears Ears, at least, may face a “significant” reduction in size, an unnamed administration official told the Post, despite a lobbying effort by several American Indian tribes who want to keep the monument — which contains Pueblo artifacts and art — as-is.
“No President should use the authority under the Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object,” Zinke said in his official report on his findings. “It is Congress and not the President that has the authority to make protective land designations outside of the narrow scope of the Act, and only Congress retains the authority to enact designations such as national parks, wilderness, and national conservation and recreation areas.”
Though Trump has not publicly commented on the proposal, he has spoken out in support of another type of monument — those honoring the Confederacy.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!” the president tweeted, adding,“Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
If Zinke follows through on the reported recommendations, his actions are certain to trigger court battles. Presidents are granted the authority to unilaterally designate and conserve monuments thanks to the Antiquities Act, originally enacted in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. But historically, presidents haven’t sought to roll back the protections their predecessors have bestowed.
“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,” Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington said in a statement. “Secretary 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.”