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The quieter monument battles to watch

What local leaders are saying about lesser-known areas as review nears its end.

 

After receiving nearly 1.5 million public comments, the Department of the Interior’s national monuments review enters its final month. Meanwhile, Secretary Ryan Zinke continues to visit sites under review.

Of the 27 monuments originally highlighted by the order, Bears Ears in Utah has received by far the most attention because of the controversy surrounding it, with Utah’s also controversial Grand Staircase-Escalante trailing close behind. Last week, Zinke announced that he was no longer considering changes to Craters of the Moon in Idaho or Washington’s Hanford Reach.

Zinke’s review ends August 23. (Comments on marine monuments can be submitted through July 26.) In the meantime, here’s a rundown of local responses to some controversial but less-buzzed-about monuments in the West:

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon

In its final days, the Obama administration expanded Cascade-Siskiyou, an area known for its incredible biodiversity, from 53,000 to about 100,000 acres. But the monument’s inclusion in the Interior Department’s review has raised concerns that the expansion could be undone. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has threatened to sue the Trump administration if it attempts to make changes to the monument boundaries. “As you review the vibrant landscape within the Cascade-Siskiyou region, I know that you and the President will share our desire to preserve it for future generations,” Rosenblum wrote in a letter to Zinke.

When Zinke visited the monument, he said that “nobody knows” how its boundaries were decided. He said that any changes to the monument would be based on science. But the science on biodiversity is complex. We still have much to learn — and monuments like Cascade-Siskiyou are invaluable in that process.

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
Bureau of Land Management

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Río Grande del Norte National Monuments, New Mexico

In a letter to Zinke, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez said she supports the review of these two monuments “to focus on the respective proclamations and the objects to be protected to analyze whether the designations make the best sense for New Mexico.” Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM, agrees, and has called Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks too large.

But the state’s Democratic congressional delegates have come out strongly against any change to the monuments, as have many local groups. A June press release from Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks says “small business owners, Tribal leaders, sportsmen and women, veterans, and other across New Mexico” condemn the review. The release notes that, like Bears Ears, both Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Río Grande del Norte went through an extensive review process with tribal leaders and representatives, and also cites evidence of economic growth in the communities surrounding the monuments.

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Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Montana

In June, Montana Governor Steve Bullock sent a letter to Zinke urging no changes to Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. He wrote that then-Secretary Babbitt’s decision to recommend monument designation in 2000 was “informed by nearly two years of public discourse and agency analysis.” The designation of the monument has been positive overall, according to Bullock: Ranching and existing oil and gas leases remain as they were before the designation, while public recreation has increased significantly. A conservation group called Hold Our Ground put ads on television and social media urging Zinke to keep the Breaks as it is and encouraging Montanans to help protect it.

This week, Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, added his voice in defense of its boundaries. Zinke has said he is “likely” to recommend leaving the monument as it is, and Tester wrote to “respectfully urge (him) to hold the line” on that recommendation. In a video about the monument, Tester says rescinding the monument would be a “job-killing step backwards in our responsibility” to protect public lands. Sen. Steve Daines, R-MT, who is critical of the Antiquities Act, has not spoken publicly about the monument’s fate.

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
Bureau of Land Management

Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments, Nevada

Designated by President Barack Obama near the end of his term, Gold Butte National Monument elicited a similar, though less media-saturated, controversy than Bears Ears, which was created at the same time. Lying near the home of the Bundy family, Gold Butte has many neighbors who are concerned about losing the existing uses of the land and see monument status as an effort to “lock it up.” When the monument was designated, Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement that “the use of the Antiquities Act in designating Gold Butte bypassed Congress and the public.” The city of Mesquite near Gold Butte recently passed a resolution supporting Zinke’s review. Sandoval has not issued a statement regarding the review.

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Officials in Nye County, home of Basin and Range, opposed Obama’s designation of Basin and Range in 2015, and some have lent their support to Zinke’s review. Nye is also the home of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site — a project which county officials support, though Nevada’s Congressional delegation does not — and some worried, when the monument was designated, that it would further bog down planning for Yucca. (One potential rail route for nuclear waste shipments runs through the monument.)

Zinke is expected to visit Nevada’s national monuments soon, possibly before the end of July. When he visited Nevada last month, he said he had no “preconceived ideas” about Gold Butte and Basin and Range.

Rebecca Worby is an editorial fellow at High Country News.