- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2017

Tribal leaders on Friday blasted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, saying his plan to shrink Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument is “an insult” and shows blatant disregard for their concerns.

In a statement, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition — a governing body established by the Obama administration to oversee the massive 1.5 million-acre Bears Ears site — said they plan to sue.

“Secretary Zinke’s recommendation is an insult to tribes. 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,” said Carleton Bowekaty, Zuni councilman and Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition co-chair.

Other coalition leaders said they’re prepared to file lawsuits.

“The designation of Bears Ears National Monument was a celebratory moment where our voice was finally heard, and our cultural and spiritual heritage was respected,” said Davis Filfred, Navajo Nation council delegate. “Our tribes stand together and are willing to go into battle in terms of litigation and we are here to fight for our monument.”

Mr. Zinke on Thursday completed his review of more than two dozen monuments across the country, sending a list of recommended changes to President Trump. While the Interior Department refused to publicly release the recommendations, Mr. Zinke reportedly has recommended changes to at least three monuments: Bears Ears, Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante, and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon.

The Bears Ears portion of the proposal comes as little surprise. Earlier this summer, Mr. Zinke unveiled an interim plan that suggested dramatically shrinking the monument, leaving certain areas that contain historical artifacts protected under monument status but removing that designation from other vast areas.

The secretary defended his review Thursday, saying the land should be protected but also accessible for the American people.

“There’s an expectation we need to look out 100 years from now to keep the public land experience alive in this country,” he said. “You can protect the monument by keeping public access to traditional uses.”

In addition to criticism from tribes, Mr. Zinke has come under intense fire from a host of other conservation and environmental groups who say the entire review has been misguided from the start, and is little more than pretext to open up more federal lands for energy exploration.

“Shrinking national monuments and eliminating safeguards for these public lands and waters ignores more than a hundred years of presidential commitments to protect America’s special places,” said Jamie Rapport Clark, president and Ceo of the organization Defenders of Wildlife. “Secretary Zinke often invokes Teddy Roosevelt as his role model, but President Roosevelt protected our natural heritage; he would never have made these recommendations. We urge President Trump to responsibly honor our nation’s conservation values and leave these designations intact.”

The review process came in response to complaints that past presidents, particularly former President Obama, abused presidential authority and used monument designations as a way to shut off federal land to energy development, logging, and other activities.

It’s unclear when Mr. Trump will act on the recommendations.

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