US Interior chief urges changes to national monuments

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rode a horse in the Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding Utah earlier this year. A leaked memo from Zinke to President Trump recommends that Bears Ears be reduced

In June, Zinke told reporters he had recommended shrinking the Bears Ears monument, the country's newest monument, and last month he sent his recommendations to the Republican president after reviewing more than two dozen national monuments.

Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift referred questions about the memo to the White House.

Titus responded Monday to the leak of the memo over the weekend, saying, "Secretary Zinke leaked a memo in the middle of the night because he knows his plan to hack away at monuments like Gold Butte is an overreach opposed by the majority of Americans".

Energy, mining, ranching and timber industries have cheered the review, while conservation groups and the outdoor recreation industry threatened lawsuits over what they see as an effort to undo protections of critical natural and cultural resources.

A four-month review was ordered by Mr Trump earlier this year after he complained the monuments were "land grabs" by former presidents, including Barack Obama.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat who strongly supports the monument designation, criticized the Trump administration for a lack of transparency in the review process. None of the sites would revert to new ownership, he said, while public access for uses such as hunting, fishing or grazing would be maintained or restored.

If Trump adopts the recommendations, it would quiet some of the worst fears of his opponents, who warned that vast public lands and marine areas could be lost to states or private interests.

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But significant reductions in the size of the monuments, especially those created by Obama, would mark the latest in a string of actions where Trump has sought to erode his Democratic predecessor's legacy.

No president has tried to eliminate a monument, but some have trimmed and redrawn boundaries 18 times, according to the National Park Service.

As instructed by Trump, Zinke released an interim report in June on the Bears Ears National Monument, recommending the administration significantly reduce the size of the monument.

By contrast, Zinke's memorandum discussed creating three new national monuments. The Interior secretary's report suggested specific reductions in size to four national monuments, including Bears Ears in Utah.

Zinke's plan also would allow logging at a newly designated monument in ME and urges more grazing, hunting and fishing at two sites in New Mexico.

Although the details of Zinke's report to Trump did not become public until Sunday night, he was widely expected in ME to recommend changes to allow some timber harvesting within Katahdin Woods and Waters.

"Acting on these recommendations would represent an unprecedented assault on our parks and public lands, and undermine bipartisan progress to protect our lands and waters that dates to Theodore Roosevelt", said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society. "We believe the Trump administration has no legal authority to alter or erase protections for national treasures". Williams also promised to battle "these illegal and risky recommendations" in court, if Trump acts on them.

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