Details emerge on proposed monument cutbacks

Interior Secretary Zinke says he will recommend reductions to some monuments, but not eliminations.


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has completed his long-awaited review of 21 national monuments, ordered earlier this year by President Donald Trump. Zinke told the Associated Press Thursday he was not recommending rescinding any monuments, but that he was recommending a handful be reduced in size.

The full review has been handed over to the White House, but it has not been made public. However, citing anonymous sources who have seen the review, The Washington Post reported Thursday that Zinke is recommending cuts to Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, as well as Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both in Utah. Former President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996 and Cascade-Siskiyou in 2000. Former President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears in the waning months of his presidency last year and expanded Cascade-Siskiyou by 47,000 acres in January.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is located at the crossroads of the Cascade, Klamath and Siskiyou mountain ranges and could serve as a refuge for species as the climate changes.

The designation of each of those monuments came amid outcry from their opponents of federal government overreach and fears that monument status would damage local economies, which were traditionally bound to resource extraction—timber, grazing or mining. Utah politicians, in particular, have labeled their local monuments as examples of local input being ignored. Echoing such long-held concerns in a press call Thursday morning, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, called Trump’s review an opportunity to reexamine “how we protect the resources, not if we protect them.” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was instrumental in orchestrating the review and making it an early priority for the Trump administration.

However, in the case of the Clinton-designated monuments, those fears have proven unfounded. Instead, counties bordering the protected areas have largely grown and undergone the same economic shifts that are sweeping the rural West.

In the two counties bordering Grand Staircase-Escalante, Garfield and Kane, population has grown by 13 percent and jobs by 24 percent since 2001. Per capita income has grown too. Service jobs, such as doctors, lawyers, retail workers and tour guides, outnumber non-service jobs, like those in mining and agriculture, four to one.

That trend was already underway when the monument was designated and is common to nearly every Western community, says Chris Mehl, an economist with the nonpartisan research group Headwaters Economics. Anywhere you look, “the net new jobs are almost all services.”

The nearby counties have lost school-aged children, Mehl says, but that, too, is common to most rural areas, particularly in the West. In fact, “the ones with monuments or parks or wilderness are doing less bad.”

The economics of Grand Staircase-Escalante have proved particularly controversial: a proposed coalmine in and around the monument was killed by the 1996 designation. However a study currently under review at the journal Land Economics found the monument had an overall neutral effect in terms of potential jobs lost and jobs created by new monument-dependent industries like tourism.

As for federal overreach, monument designation typically allows historical uses to continue, including grazing and drilling, but curtails future new extractive uses. That was true of Grand Staircase-Escalante; while grazing permits have declined, that’s largely due to drought, not federal restrictions.

In Oregon, similar economic concerns over traditional economies like logging fostered opposition to the 1996 designation and last year’s expansion. Earlier this year, two timber companies, Murphy Co. and Murphy Timber Investments LLC, sued the federal government, saying the expansion jeopardized their businesses. The lawsuit is on hold pending the release of the final report.

In Jackson County, Oregon, which borders Cascade-Siskiyou, timber jobs have declined as a portion of the economy. However, the 2000 monument designation appears to have had little effect on that trend. Manufacturing, which includes log milling, now provides 8,542 jobs, compared with 6,384 jobs in 1970. That’s a smaller slice of the overall economy than it once was, Mehl says, but that’s because “the pie has grown so much.”

Mehl acknowledges the shifts experienced by counties like Jackson can be painful, even if the overall economy continues to improve. Still, monuments are not to blame. In fact, price fluctuations and increasing automation have destabilized timber, agriculture and mining industries, and such volatility is likely to continue.

Meanwhile, environmental concerns have become more pressing as development sweeps the West and a warming climate disrupts ecosystems. In Oregon, climate change was a main reason to expand the Cascade-Siskiyou, as researchers pressed the Obama administration to protect whole watersheds and reduce habitat fragmentation between the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains.

“It’s the only functional land bridge making that connection,” says Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist at the Geos Institute, who was involved with research on the monument’s role in climate resilience. He describes Cascade-Siskiyou, which encompasses a wide variety of habitats including oak woodlands, mixed conifer stands and chaparral, as the first monument to biodiversity. “Traditional uses like logging are land-use stressors that are incompatible with the monument’s biodiversity.”

In fact, researchers pushed for a far larger expansion than the one Obama enacted. “This is the last place any kind of monument reduction should be attempted,” DellaSala says. “Reducing the boundaries is not scientifically defensible.”

The monuments review has proven unpopular with more than researchers, though. The public comment period brought millions of notes in support of monuments.

“People are passionate about this place,” says Nicole Croft, executive director of the Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners. When they visit and find out it’s threatened, “They are sickened,” she says. “They’re heartsick.”

It’s unclear how many additional monuments will be affected, or to what degree. However, many groups say they are ready to defend the current monuments in court.

“WELC will challenge any alteration of (the Cascade-Siskiyou)’s boundaries or management emphasis,” says Susan Jane Brown, a staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center.

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