- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2017

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday submitted to the White House his long-awaited list of recommended changes to national monuments — but he kept his report hidden from the public, refusing to discuss specifics and saying it’s now up to President Trump to act.

Broadly, Mr. Zinke said that he’s suggesting changes be made to a “handful” of sites. He is not recommending that any monuments be revoked entirely as some Republican lawmakers have suggested.

The secretary went to great lengths Thursday afternoon to defend the peculiar process, which has seen him publicly declare at several points over the last few months that some monuments — such as Idaho’s Craters of the Moon — shouldn’t be changed, while he’s remained silent about others.

In a statement, he detailed the methodology by which he came to his findings, which unleashed a firestorm from critics who say the public is being kept in the dark.

“The methodology used for the review consisted of three steps. The first step was to gather the facts … the second step was to ensure that the local voice was heard by holding meetings with local, state, tribal and other elected officials as well as meetings with nonprofit groups and other stakeholders, as well as providing an online format for public comment,” Mr. Zinke said.

“The final step was to review policies on public access, hunting and fishing rights, traditional use such as timber production and grazing, economic and environmental impacts, potential legal conflicts, and provide a report to the president no later than Aug. 24, 2017,” he concluded.

He also acknowledged that the public comment portion of the process resulted in overwhelming support for keeping monuments just the way they are. Mr. Zinke said that was due to a “well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations.”

Many of those same organizations pounced on Thursday’s underwhelming announcement, saying the secretive findings — which Interior officials called a “draft report” and referred any further questions to the White House — are an insult to Americans.

“This entire review has been a lawless, secretive sham,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now Trump and Zinke are hiding the report so they don’t have to face public backlash for trying to sell out America’s public lands to fossil fuel development and logging. They’re asking for a court battle. And they’ll get one.”

The Center also said late Thursday afternoon it’s filing a Freedom of Information Act request seeking Mr. Zinke’s full report.

A host of other conservation and environmental groups expressed similar sentiments. Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the lack of detail “unacceptable,” as did many others.

“These are our public lands, and the public deserves to know what the administration plans to do with them,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These recommendations have the potential to impact the future of world-class hunting and fishing on some of America’s finest public lands and set a precedent for the future status of all national monuments, even those created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 — but we won’t know until the results of this public process are made public.”

The review, which began in April, initially included 27 monuments. Mr. Zinke has announced that he would recommend no changes to six of those.

He also made interim recommendations that the massive Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be greatly reduced in size; it’s unclear whether those recommendations remain the same in the study sent to the president Thursday. It’s also unclear whether he’s calling for any changes to the sprawling Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a highly controversial Utah site created by President Clinton in 1996.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mr. Zinke said that he’s making a long-term decision with respect to monuments to ensure that public land is both protected and accessible.

“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.”

Whatever the recommendations say, lawmakers argue that the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law that gives presidents power to create monuments, must be changed. Past presidents, especially President Obama, frequently used the act to shut off massive swaths of land and sea to energy development and other activities.

“It’s also incumbent on Congress to pursue reforms to the act that ensure it is being used to protect antiquities while providing meaningful local input in the designation process and reasonable continued public access to these iconic areas,” Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “Ultimately, only Congress can restore integrity to this law and prevent future abuses.”

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