Late yesterday evening, the Washington Post published a leaked copy of Interior Secretary Zinke’s “final recommendations” to President Trump on whether to eliminate or reduce 27 national monuments. The report recommends changes to ten of these protected landscapes.
The Carrizo Plain National Monument is not listed amongst the ten monuments slated for changes. Such a conclusion would be consistent with the widespread public support recently expressed for the Carrizo Plain National Monument, including 153 businesses throughout the Central Coast region, 32 local elected officials, 4 chambers of commerce, 45 community organizations, and nine newspapers along with thousands of residents who submitted letters and postcards urging that the Carrizo Plain remain protected.
However, it is unclear whether the leaked report is the final report that Interior Secretary Zinke transmitted to President Trump last month. The undated report consists of 19 pages compiled from photographs of a computer screen. The document is titled “Final Report Summarizing Findings of the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act” but also contains a “Draft Deliberative – Not For Distribution” notation on the bottom of each page. The Washington Post article announcing the report did not disclose its source, and a White House spokeswoman refused comment, calling it an “internal draft” that was still under review.
Interior Secretary Zinke has refused to formally release his final list of recommendations to President Trump on the fate of national monuments under review. The final report was required to be submitted to the White House on August 24, 2017.
As the leader of the Save the Carrizo Plain coalition, ForestWatch continues to call on Interior Secretary Zinke to publicly and officially release his report so that the public can learn about the fate of these iconic landscapes. We will continue to fight for its protection until an official announcement is made that the Carrizo Plain is no longer under review.
The leaked report recommends boundary reductions and other changes to Bears Ears (Utah), Cascade-Siskiyou (Oregon and California), Gold Butte (Nevada), Grand Staircase-Escalante (Utah), Katahdin Woods and Waters (Maine), Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (New Mexico), Rio Grande del Norte (New Mexico), and three marine monuments in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The elimination of vast portions of America’s national monuments will deal a major blow to local economies and the multi-billion outdoor recreation economy that America’s public lands and waters support.
We are also concerned by several misstatements and errors in the leaked report. Throughout the document, Interior Secretary Zinke encourages the “lawful exercise of the President’s discretion” to shrink the size of several national monuments. However, legal scholars have pointed out that the President holds no such discretion, and that any unilateral action by the President to change national monuments would violate the law. Only Congress has the legal authority to make changes to monuments designated by previous presidents.
Biased Analysis of Overwhelming Public Support for Monuments
In addition, the leaked report contains a biased analysis of the 2.8 million public comments received during the formal comment period. The report dismisses attendees of public hearings associated with recent monument designations as “advocates organized by non-governmental organizations (NGO) to promote monument designations,” and discounts most public comments received over the past few months as “form comments associated with NGO-organized campaigns.”
The entire premise of this review – ordered by President Trump in April 2017 – was to gather public comments for monuments that may not have received a formal comment period prior to designation. A recent analysis of the 2.8 million public comments showed that 98% of them were in support of keeping protections in place for national monuments.
We do agree with the statement in Zinke’s leaked report that the public comments “were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments.” Interior Secretary Zinke asked for the public’s opinion, and he got it. It is disingenuous for him to now try to dismiss and minimize the public’s overwhelming support for keeping our national monument lands and waters intact.
Review of Monument Management Plans
We also remain concerned about the announcement in the report that “DOI plans to undertake a review of existing monument management plans” to ensure that they are not impeding certain uses of monument lands. The Resource Management Plan for the Carrizo Plain National Monument was completed in 2010 after a multi-year process that involved public meetings, formal comment periods, and input from various stakeholders.
During the seven years since its adoption, the Carrizo Plain management plan has served as a valuable tool to manage the monument, and enjoys universal support amongst various stakeholders including oil companies, livestock operators, Native American tribes, land management agencies, conservation organizations, and the public – all of which are represented on the Carrizo Plain National Monument Advisory Committee which has helped manage the monument since its designation. There is no reason to chart a new course for the Carrizo Plain when the current one seems to be working just fine. We will vigorously oppose any attempts to weaken the Carrizo Plain management plan.
Weakening the Antiquities Act
Finally, we join with our colleagues across the country in expressing deep alarm at Interior Secretary Zinke’s recommendation urging that Congress amend the Antiquities Act. Specifically, the leaked report states, “it is also recommended that you request that Congress clarify the limits of Executive power under the Act” and urges the establishment of a “new monument designation process” through legislation, regulation, or executive order.
As demonstrated over the past five months, the public cares deeply for the conservation and protection of public lands, and supports the legal authority of any president – Republican or Democrat – to use their discretion to designate national monuments of whatever size they deem appropriate under the law. Any Congressional attempt to impede this long-standing power of the Presidency will be met with widespread public opposition.