Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed scaling back the borders of a national monument in southeastern Utah on Monday, a move that could prompt the first major rollback of public land under the Trump administration.
Bears Ears National Monument is a 1.3-million-acre conservation area that was designated by President Barack Obama in the final days of his presidency. President Trump had called for a review of that decision, and Mr. Zinke’s recommendation is being watched closely as an indicator of how the Trump administration will treat public lands.
Mr. Zinke made his recommendation in a report that also requests Congress give local tribes the authority to co-manage “designated cultural resources” within the monument’s new boundaries. But he suggests holding off on a final decision on the region until a review of 26 other monuments is complete.
The Bears Ears designation was supported by environmentalists and the leaders of many native tribes in the region, including the Navajo Nation, but was opposed by Utah’s governor, the state’s congressional delegation, and some local residents who said they feared restrictions on land in their backyard.
In a statement, Mr. Zinke said monument designation is “not the best use of the land.” Mr. Zinke recommended that Mr. Trump roll back the boundaries, to protect only areas that include historic and prehistoric structures, such as archaeological sites and remains of dwellings.
The monument, as it stands, is a vast canyon region of red rocks named for two towering buttes called the Bears Ears. It is home to 100,000 archaeological sites, including wall etchings that supporters say are as culturally significant as the Sistine Chapel.
In terms of protection, national monuments are generally considered one step below national parks.
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