For 60 days in early summer, outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes flooded the Department of the Interior with testimonies about how much they love their public lands.
These comments were in response to a “review” process, dictated by Executive Order, that put protections for millions of acres of public land on the chopping block. Bears Ears National Monument in Utah was a particular focus of the review, and Outdoor Alliance and Access Fund gathered more than 8,000 comments from you, which we hand delivered to the Department of the Interior in late May. Over the course of the 60-day review period, Outdoor Alliance and our member groups rallied more than 20,000 comments defending public lands across the country.
So what‘s likely to happen next in this monument “review”?
On June 10, Secretary Zinke delivered an “interim report,” required under the Executive Order, which included a recommendation to shrink Bears Ears. The report included no maps, and the scale of the modifications he intends to recommend are wholly unknown. On August 24, Secretary Zinke is due to deliver a final recommendation to the President, and it remains uncertain what that recommendation might include.
In the last few weeks, Secretary Zinke has stated that he will not recommend changes to a few monuments, including Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, Hanford Reach in Washington, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana, and Craters of the Moon in Idaho. While it’s a relief to hear that some of these monuments are no longer threatened, the very idea of rescinding or modifying any protections through this process remains offensive. National Monuments are protected with an enormous amount of public input, and efforts to repeal or rescind those protections based on a brief, unsystematic, and seemingly deeply predetermined review are dubious at best, and potentially illegal.
The outdoor community has been really involved in speaking out to defend public lands during this monument review. While our expectations for Secretary Zinke’s recommendations August 24 are not high, there’s reason to believe that without our community’s outreach, they would be even worse. Ultimately, this is a political process, and attaching a political cost to these proposed changes—by demonstrating how deeply unpopular they are—will help keep these proposals away from the worst-case scenario. After Secretary Zinke makes his recommendations, the President will have to determine how or if to put them into action; again, this can be an important time to demonstrate how unpopular proposals to roll back public lands protections really are.
If monuments are repealed or boundaries are adjusted, then commercialization or energy development is a big threat. The areas where Sec. Zinke has indicated he will recommend leaving monuments alone seem to be areas that do not have good prospects for energy development, meaning that the public lands that are at the biggest risk are those with potential oil, gas, or mineral development on them. Presumably the next steps would be to follow through by developing those resources, potentially in a manner harmful to antiquities, conservation values, and recreation.
So what can you do now?
- Keep in touch with your legislators, and follow whether your elected representatives have spoken out about the monument review.
- Continue to follow the news about the monument review (or sign up for our action alerts and we’ll make sure you stay updated).
- Be prepared to speak out again if you oppose changes to National Monuments, particularly those that are near you or in the state where you live.