Report on protected federal land a mystery

Brady McCombs and Matthew Brown
Associated Press

Salt Lake City — Tribes, ranchers and conservationists know that none of the national monuments ordered reviewed by President Donald Trump will be eliminated, but the changes in store for the sprawling land and sea areas remain a mystery after the administration kept a list of recommendations under wraps.

That left people on all sides of the contentious debate clinging to only shreds of information and anxiously waiting for more details.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told The Associated Press that none of the 27 monuments will be rescinded, but he said he would push for boundary changes on a “handful” and left open the possibility of allowing drilling, mining or other industries on the sites.

The White House said only that it received Zinke’s recommendations Thursday, a deadline set months ago. But it declined to make them public or offer a timetable for when it would take action.

Zinke previously said in a trickle of announcements this summer that no changes would be made at six monuments under review — in Montana, Colorado, Idaho, California, Arizona and Washington — and that Bears Ears on tribal lands in Utah would be downsized.

Conservationists and tribal leaders responded with alarm and distrust, demanding the full release of Zinke’s recommendations and vowing to challenge attempts to shrink any monuments.

Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president of Oceana, which has been pushing for preservation of five marine monuments included in the review, said that simply saying “changes” are coming doesn’t reveal any real information.

“A change can be a small tweak or near annihilation,” Savitz said. “The public has a right to know.”

Groups that consider the millions of acres designated for protection by President Barack Obama and other past presidents part of a massive federal land grab voiced optimism that Zinke wants to reign in some areas. But they also expressed disappointment that the full report wasn’t available.

“It was kind of the unmonumental monument announcement,” said Kathleen Sgamma, of the oil industry trade group Western Energy Alliance.

Sgamma’s group is among the organizations that hope the review spurs reform of the 1906 Antiquities Act, the law that gives presidents power to unilaterally create national monuments. Zinke said in a short summary report that he found that that the creation of some of the monuments was arbitrary or politically motivated.