- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Trump administration’s plan to shrink at least three major national monuments is headed for a courtroom battle, with environmentalists and tribal groups warning over the weekend that they’re readying lawsuits in hope of stopping the move.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, an organization set up by the Obama administration in December to oversee the 1.5 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, called Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plan “an insult” and vowed that they won’t give up without a fight. Bears Ears is one of three monuments Mr. Zinke reportedly urged the president to reduce in size, though the Interior Department would not publicly release the full study.

“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 for a lengthy legal battle with the administration.

“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.”

The threats, which were echoed by environmental groups, came just hours after Mr. Zinke officially completed his review of more than two dozen monuments across the country.

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 sections that contain historical artifacts protected under monument status but removing that designation from other vast areas.

Some Republican lawmakers had urged the secretary to recommend that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase be fully revoked — a step that would’ve been legally unprecedented and, legal analysts have said, almost surely would’ve wound up before the Supreme Court.

But the pared down plan will face its own legal hurdles. A host of environmental and conservation groups suggested in recent days that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to stop Mr. Zinke and Mr. Trump.

“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,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife. “Defenders of Wildlife will fight to retain protections for the lands and waters designated as national monuments to ensure that they are conserved for future generations. We stand with the 2.8 million Americans who have called on the president to protect our irreplaceable national monuments.”

Indeed, nearly 3 million Americans submitted public comments during the review process. Mr. Zinke has acknowledged that the vast majority of those comments called on the administration to leave all monuments alone.

In his own comments last Thursday, Mr. Zinke seemed to lay the groundwork for the administration’s legal defense — that past presidents, particularly President Obama, abused presidential power under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives commanders in chief the authority to create monuments.

The law calls for monuments to be limited to the “smallest area compatible” with protecting a given site or object, but Mr. Obama and others have used it to cordon off millions of acres of federal land to energy development and other activities.

“Adherence to the act’s definition of an ‘object’ and ‘smallest area compatible’ clause on some monuments were either arbitrary or likely politically motivated or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource management,” Mr. Zinke said.

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