Monument Miasma from Vague Zinke Memo

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Monument Miasma from Vague Zinke Memo

Contradictions, Legal Questions, and Confusion Cloud Zinke Monument Review

Washington, DC — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s review of national monuments has produced a mish-mash of recommendations that raise more questions than they answer, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The review recommends revising six national monument boundaries but does not say by how much or by what precise criteria.

In a 19-page “Memorandum for the President” entitled “Executive Summary and Impressions of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke” bearing the subject line “Final Report Summarizing Findings of the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act,” Zinke lays out recommendations on 10 national monuments out of 27 he claimed to review. It is not stated whether the other 17 listed monuments will be left unmolested.

Out of the 10 monuments, he recommends revising the boundaries of four land-based monuments in three states (Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte, and Oregon’s Cascade Siskiyou) and two Pacific marine monuments both created by President George W. Bush. Zinke’s central premise is that monuments are supposed to protect “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management” but offers no guide for applying this standard while seemingly suggesting it should instead be the smallest area possible.

His memo complains about “objects not clearly defined” in prior monuments proclamations but then offers conflicting and indefinite management changes for all ten monuments, including –

  • Complaining that monument “boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource management” but pointing to neither in support of his conclusions;
  • Repeatedly urging action “to protect objects and prioritize public access” as if the two goals were compatible. Paradoxically, Zinke wrote “an unintended consequence of monument designation is an increased threat of damage or looting of objects due to higher visitation” while at the same time advocating more motorized commercial and recreational access; and
  • Reopening four marine monuments to commercial fishing with plans for energy development in those monuments still in the works;

“What is the purpose of a marine monument if it is open to industrial fishing, drilling, and mining?” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that the memo was submitted a month ago but the White House refuses to comment because it is both “leaked” and still “under review.” “This memo is not a coherent basis for serious public land use decisionmaking.”

In addition, the Zinke memo recommends –

  • Opening Maine’s Katahdin National Monument to commercial logging while also citing a statute authorizing timber cutting too conserve “historic objects” – which would not be the case here;
  • Trump request “congressional authority to enable tribal comanagement of designated cultural areas” in three monuments without explaining how that would work or who would pay for it; and
  • Creating three new monuments that depend upon first developing “a standard for public input and process for monument designations in the future.”

“It is legal terra incognita whether the Trump administration can implement any of this,” added Ruch, noting that Zinke’s final recommendation is that the White House “request that Congress clarify the limits of Executive power under the [Antiquities] Act.” “What is certain is that any move to strip monument protections or shrink their boundaries will be litigated into the next decade.”


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