Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending that six of 27 national monuments under review by the Trump administration be reduced in size and proposes changes to several others.
A leaked memo from Zinke to the president, coming after a four-month review, recommends that two Utah monuments — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante — be reduced, along with Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.
Two marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean also would be reduced under Zinke’s memo.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the memo, titled “Final Report Summarizing Findings of the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act,” which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
A national monument is a protected area similar to a national park, but it can be created from land owned or controlled by the federal government by proclamation of the president of the United States.
National monuments can be so designated through the power of the Antiquities Act of 1906. President Theodore Roosevelt used the act to declare Devils Tower in Wyoming as the first national monument.
The president ordered the review earlier this year after complaining about improper “land grabs” by former presidents, among them Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama.
National monument designations add protections for lands appreciated for their natural beauty and historical significance with the goal of preserving them for future generations.
Zinke told the Associated Press last month that unspecified boundary adjustments for some monuments designated over the past four decades will be included in the recommendations submitted to the president. 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.
The president also spoke of protecting tribal interests and historical land grants, pointing to monuments in New Mexico, where Hispanic ranchers have opposed two monuments proclaimed by Obama.
State legislatures in Utah and Arizona have considered resolutions or legislation asking for modifications to existing monuments or to the Antiquities Act itself. Native American tribes are also concerned about consultation regarding the monuments and exploring what the memo said was a more “meaningful” role in managing designations that encompass what they consider sacred or culturally significant areas.
Zinke declined to say whether portions of the monuments would be opened up to oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and other industries for which the president has advocated. The Associated Press said it was not clear from the memo how much energy development would be allowed on the sites recommended for changes, although the memo cites increased public access as a key goal.
If the president adopts the recommendations, it would ease 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.
In addition to shrinking six monuments, Zinke recommends changes at several other sites, including two national monuments in New Mexico: Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte.