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Adventure / December 14, 2017

Two more monuments are on the chopping block

Written by: Matt Minich

Last week, we joined a chorus of environmentalists, Native American tribes, and outdoor industry leaders to protest Trump’s decision to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. That decision was the largest rollback of federal land protections in U.S. history, and was generally considered to be a very, very big deal. So even if you didn’t read our overview of the controversy, you no doubt heard something about it.

Just outside that spotlight, the stage is already being set for the next big public lands battle. Just one day after Trump’s proclamation, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke presented the president with official recommendations to shrink two more national monuments and to loosen regulations for several more.

Those recommendations are the product of a 120-day review of America’s national monuments ordered by Trump in April. The expressed goals of the review were to determine whether monuments were too large or their regulations too restrictive.

Though public comments received through the review process were “overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments,” Zinke’s report recommends changes to several. Most notably, he advises the president to “revise” the boundaries of Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou monuments.


Nevada’s Gold Butte N.M.

Like Bears Ears, the 296,937-acre Gold Butte National Monument was designated by President Obama in the final days of his presidency (both monuments were established on December 28, 2016). It was designated after an extended campaign by Nevada’s Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, who hoped a monument designation would protect the area’s extensive rock art.

The monument protects a stretch of the Mojave desert that is prized by equestrians, hikers, and 4×4 drivers (the 89.4-mile Gold Butte Backcountry Byway is considered a classic by many southwestern off-highway drivers). The region is also considered an important habitat area for mountain lions, bighorn sheep, and the endangered Mojave Desert Tortoise.

In his report, Zinke cites “historic water rights” to springs within the monument as reasons for a regulatory rollback, and recommends that President Trump work with congress to establish “tribal co-management” of the area’s cultural resources. He makes no specific recommendations for changes to the monument’s borders.

The tribes involved have already spoken out against changes to the monument. In a press conference last week, Darren Daboda of the Moapa Band of Paiutes described the proposed rollback as “heartbreaking” and as a “breach of trust.”


Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou N.M.

Zinke’s plan for the 113,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles the border between Oregon and California, is only slightly more specific. His report doesn’t make specific boundary recommendations, but it does give some hints about the monument’s future.

Almost a third of the land within Cascade-Siskiyou is privately held, and Zinke’s report suggests that the monument designation has made it difficult for landowners to access and use those inholdings (much of this land is still used for logging and cattle grazing). In his recommendations, Zinke specifically suggests steps be made to address the impacts of land use regulations on timber production.

The recommendations been widely but not universally opposed in Oregon, which is home to most of the monument. Local environmental organizations have condemned the move, as have the owners of some of the monument’s inholdings. Both of the state’s Democratic senators have publicly complained that they were not consulted about the changes.

Cascade-Siskiyou was initially designated by President Clinton in 2000 to protect the area’s biodiversity. It was expanded by President Obama in the final days of his presidency after a concerted lobbying push by biologists and leaders of several surrounding communities. The monument is popular among hikers, birdwatchers, and cross-country skiers.


…and six more

Under Zinke's recommendation, waters within the Remote Pacific Islands National Monument would be opened to commercial fishing. Photo by NOAA.

The report suggests that Maine's Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument be opened to logging. Photo by Thomas Robert Kelley.

In addition to the boundary revisions, Zinke’s report recommends management changes to a total of 10 national monuments.

Most of those proposed changes invoke some level of regulatory rollback. Zinke recommends “active timber management” in Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters and hints at opening three marine monuments to limited commercial fishing. In the case of western monuments, Zinke also recommends tribal co-management of the land.

The recommended changes suggest a pushback against federal land protections in general—Zinke often mentions a mandate for monuments to conserve only “the smallest area compatible,” and suggests that large-scale conservation has generally been enacted against the interests of the communities involved.

“Too often, it is local stakeholders who lack the organization, funding, and institutional support to compete with well-funded national NGOs,” writes Zinke. “As a result, the pubic consultation processes that have occurred prior to monument designations have not adequately accounted for local voices.”

Zinke’s own public consultation process found constituents to be “overwhelmingly in favor” of current monument designations. He describes this not as an indication of public sentiment, but as evidence of “a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations.”


Three new monuments

As a general theme, Zinke’s recommendations are generally to reduce the protection of national monuments, either by reducing their size or by scaling back certain protections. But his report is not entirely focused on regulatory rollbacks—he also identifies three potential sites for the designation of new monuments.

By far the largest of these is the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine Area in Montana’s Lewis and Clark National Forest. That stretch of land connects Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The Blackfeet tribe has long sought federal protections to shield the land from oil and gas drilling.

Zinke also suggests two historical monuments: a Union army supply depot in Kentucky (Camp Nelson), and the Mississippi home of civil rights martyr Medgar Evers.


Time will tell

In the wake of Trump’s cuts of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, several organizations have challenged the president’s right to reduce the size of national monuments (past presidents have done do, but this will be the first time the issue has been discussed in court). The decisions made in those cases will no doubt shape the future of the monuments addressed in Zinke’s report.

In the meantime, those folks who feel strongly about the issue should contact the Trump administration directly. The public comment period for Zinke’s report is over, but no changes can be made the monuments without a presidential proclamation.

Unless otherwise noted, photos are courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management. 

Do you have thoughts or questions about this issue? Email them to us at [email protected]

about the author

Matt Minich

Matt Minich is Editorial Director for Shoulders of Giants. He has spent more than a decade writing, editing, and curating content about outdoor sports and adventure. As an adventure journalist he has climbed peaks in Patagonia, rappelled waterfalls in Colorado, B.A.S.E. jumped in Moab, and sampled fermented horse milk in Kyrgyzstan.

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