Zinke Recommends Delaying Decision on Bears Ears National Monument

(The Washington Post) -
Zinke, Recommends, Delaying, Decision, Bears Ears, National Monument
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, at the Department of Transportation in Washington, last week. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke has submitted an interim report to President Donald Trump recommending to delay a final decision to rescind, alter or maintain the Bears Ears National Historic Monument until later this year, a spokeswoman said Monday.

Mr. Trump signed an executive order in April ordering Zinke to review 27 national monuments designated by his predecessors, and he instructed the secretary to first report back on Bears Ears, a 1.35-million-acre site then-President Barack Obama designated in southeastern Utah in December.

A coalition of tribes, environmentalists, outdoor recreation businesses and academics had pressed for the designation because some of the area’s more than 100,000 archaeological sites have been damaged in recent years by vandalism, off-road vehicle use and looting. Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah’s congressional delegation, all Republicans, argued that lawmakers should determine the boundaries of any monument rather than the White House.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email that no final decision had been due by Saturday, only an “interim report” providing “various recommendations. That’s exactly what the Secretary submitted.”

Speaking to reporters in late April, Zinke said the review of Bears Ears and other monuments designated under the 1906 Antiquities Act amounted to Trump “delivering on a promise” he made during the 2016 campaign.

“He selected me to review it. I may be the most popular individual in the world, or I may be the most unpopular position in the world, but it’s a job that – I can’t be more thrilled being the secretary of Interior,” Zinke said. “I mean, to be the steward of a fifth of our country and the majesty, it’s an enormous responsibility, but also it’s a gift. So I’m going to use that authority I think to the benefit of us all.”

Zinke is expected to provide details of the review at a 2:30 p.m. news conference.

The secretary traveled last month to the Bears Ears site, which lies within Utah’s San Juan County, to listen to the state’s politicians and nearby residents who opposed the designation. He also met for a shorter time with supporters of the site. The Associated Press reported Monday morning that the 45-day interim report to the president would urge delaying a final recommendation on taking any action.

In a statement Saturday, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, praised Trump “for acting decisively to right the wrongs of his predecessor.

“The President’s executive order on public lands has given Utahns – especially the residents of San Juan County – a powerful voice in the process of protecting these sacred lands,” Hatch said. “I’m prepared to support whatever recommendation Secretary Zinke offers to the President at the conclusion of a thoughtful and inclusive review process.”