Bears Ears is one of three national monuments Zinke wants altered after review ordered by Trump; tribes plan to sue
The 1.35 million–acre Bears Ears National Monument could be reduced to about 160,000 acres, according to one report about Interior’s final review of national monuments, commissioned by President Donald Trump. The tribes that lobbied for the designation, made by President Barack Obama before he left office last January, have vowed to sue.
Bears Ears is among three monuments that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recommended for altering. His report recommends reducing the size of the Grand Staircase–Escalante and Bears Ears in Utah and the Cascade-Siskiyou, a 113,000-acre grasslands and forest in Oregon and California containing a diverse ecosystem, according to The Washington Post. Though the Interior Department issued a news release stating that Zinke had sent his draft findings and recommendations to the President on August 24, the report has not been made public, and no specifics were outlined in his summary.
“In recent days, Mr. Zinke had been considering a dramatic reduction to Bears Ears, to approximately 160,000 acres from 1.35 million, according to multiple people familiar with the process,” reported The New York Times on August 24.
In anticipation of Zinke’s final contentious recommendation and the interim report on Bears Ears he issued in June, the tribal coalition that initially brought the proposal to Obama to designate a monumentsays it plans to file a lawsuit as soon as Zinke’s report is made public.
“Bears Ears was established in perfect accordance within the mandate of the Antiques Act,” said Natalie Landreth, an attorney representing the Hopi, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, who are part of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition made up of tribal leaders representing five nations. “Every eighth of a mile has [cultural] objects. There aren’t any unused or extra spaces—any reduction of it is illegal.”
Landreth also stated that under the act neither the President nor an agency has the power to reduce or change national monuments.
“There was nothing wrong with the way it was established; only Congress has the power to change or reduce a monument,” she said, adding that the President has executed this mandate “for purely political reasons.”
The Navajo Nation also says it plans to file a lawsuit or take legal action, depending on what the recommendation is, said attorney Katherine Belzowski, adding that not releasing the report publicly was disappointing because of the uncertainty created by the lack of transparency.
Through an executive order in April, Trump asked the Interior Secretary to review national monuments of more than 100,000 acres, or designations that had been made without what he considered adequate public outreach, created since January 1, 1996 under the Antiquities Act. Twenty-seven monuments, including marine areas in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, established by Presidents Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush, were under a 120-day review, with an interim report on Bears Ears due 45 days from the order.
In his preliminary report on Bears Ears issued June 12, Zinke stated that a monument that “encompasses almost 1.5 million acres where multiple-use management is hindered or prohibited is not the best use of the land and is not in accordance with the intention of the Antiquities Act.” He recommended that Bears Ears “needs to be right-sized and that it is absolutely critical that an appropriate part be co-managed by the tribal nations.” He also recommended that Congress take action to protect some areas.
Since his appointment as secretary, the tribal coalition said it has tried to meet with Zinke several timesbut only received 60 minutes with him in Salt Lake City during Zinke’s four-day listening tour of the Bears Ears region and San Juan County in May. Even those who did attend, they said, were those who could attend on short notice.
“Secretary Zinke’s recommendation is an insult to tribes,” said Carleton Bowekaty, Zuni Pueblo councilman and coalition co-chair, in a statement. “He has shown complete disregard for sovereign tribes with ancestral connections to the region, as well as to the hundreds of thousands of people who have expressed support for Bears Ears National Monument.”
Gavin Noyes, executive director of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a grassroots nonprofit representing local Native Americans looking to protect Bears Ears, said he was also disappointed in Zinke’s non-response to invitations by Utah Navajo Chapter Houses to tour the area.
“There are 1.3 million acres of reservation land in San Juan County and he made no attempt to meet with the local users of the national monument that worked so hard to get it protected. The majority of San Juan County is Native American and no other appointments were given to meet with local residents,” Noyes said of Zinke’s May visit.
Bears Ears, named after two 9,000-foot buttes, is revered as sacred to area tribes and contains more than 100,000 cultural and archeological sites. Though designated as a national monument under Obama before he left office, the vast region has little law enforcement protection under management by the Bureau of Land Management.
Officials in San Juan County, one of the poorest counties in the state, would like expand the extraction industry as part of job creation as the area is rife with oil, gas, copper and other minerals. Not all area Native Americans, however, are monument proponents, citing wariness of federal policies that have betrayed them in the past.