Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendation to downsize a vast new national monument in Utah created optimism among opponents of 26 other monuments under review around the country and fear among conservation groups that worry he will propose shrinking or rescinding other sites in his final report due in late August.
Along the New England coast, commercial fishermen were ecstatic to hear Monday about Zinke’s proposed reduction of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and hopeful it foreshadows a similar fate for a marine monument they oppose.
They’re preparing to make a pitch for a full undoing of the designation when Zinke visits the area this week.
Opponents of other sites are making similar plans after the Bears Ears decision, saying the designations often close areas to oil, gas and mineral development along with other uses.
“It sets a precedent for the review of all the monuments,” said Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association Inc. “Under the former administration, we questioned whether this is about conservation or just control.”
Conservation groups that were stung by the recommendation are trying to rally public support to fully preserve the monuments but expect they will have to resort to a protracted legal fight if President Donald Trump eventually downsizes or eliminates monument designations.
They assert the 1908 Antiquities Act allows presidents to create monuments but gives only Congress the power to modify or rescind them.
“It’s obvious the goal is to serve private interests over the public good,” said Kristen Boyles, a staff attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice.
As Zinke gets ready to visit the Katahdin Wood and Waters Monument in Maine, people on both sides of the issue are dissecting his Bears Ears proposal.
Demar Dahl, an Elko County commissioner in Nevada, said he expects Zinke will take the same shrink-but-not-rescind approach with two Nevada monuments under review — Basin and Range, and Gold Butte.
“I don’t have the problem with things being protected that need to be protected, but when you set aside maybe 10 times more area than you need, that’s when you get to the point when you need common sense to kick in,” Dahl said.
Zinke called the Bears Ears area “drop-dead-gorgeous country” that merits some protection on Monday in explaining his recommendation, but said the boundaries should be more narrowly focused around key cultural sites.
Trump ordered the monument review based on the notion that presidents increasingly are protecting areas that are too large and do not fit the law’s purpose of shielding particular historical or archaeological sites.
National monument designations add protections for lands revered for their natural beauty and historical significance with the goal of preserving them for future generations.
The restrictions aren’t as stringent as those on national parks, but some policies include limits on mining, timber cutting and recreational activities such as riding off-road vehicles.
Many national monuments have later been declared national parks. Among them were Zion National Park in Utah and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.