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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Reviews Bears Ears National Monument


We should soon know more about the future of Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. Covering 1.3 million acres, it includes land considered sacred to Native Americans. President Obama designated it a national monument near the end of his time in office. President Trump is taking a second look at that designation along with 26 other national monuments. He's expected to get a recommendation on how to proceed with Bears Ears tomorrow from his interior secretary.

And here to talk more about this is NPR's Kirk Siegler. And Kirk, help us understand why the Trump administration is having another go-around at this designation, particularly for Bears Ears.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Well, Bears Ears is really what spurred on this larger executive order asking the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, to review the monuments. It's the latest example of a large piece of protected federal land that was done by a president executive order and not through Congress. And that's very contentious in particular for many Republicans in Congress. And reversing it would be seen as something that would certainly appeal to Mr. Trump's base.

I would be very surprised, Audie, to see the interior secretary recommend that the 1.3 million-acre monument itself be left completely intact. I think - sources on both sides are telling me they're expecting it to either be abolished or recommended to be abolished or at least shrunk. And I think this decision is going to give us a pretty clear early indication, anyway, on how the administration is going to act on a lot of public lands issues - in particular, species protection and drilling and whatnot - that go way beyond just this monument and the others in the review.

CORNISH: Kirk, the thing is, I thought the government already owned this land before it was declared a national monument. So what does the designation really mean?

SIEGLER: Right, so no matter what happens with the recommendation of the decision, Audie, this is still public land open to all of us. Now, what the designation of a national monument does is that it adds additional protections on that land. And the real sticking point here is that a national monument grandfathers in existing uses, but it does not allow new things like expanding cattle grazing or mining.

And you know, this is an important point because a lot of the local opposition to monuments like Bears Ears and others is, folks in rural areas - some of them feel as though they've been left behind by the tourism and recreation economies that have spurred up around the West lately, and they fear that an additional national monument designation which could turn into a national park with more protections restricts their ability to make a living out in places and restricts their ability to develop the land for other uses.

CORNISH: Now, before I let you go, if the interior secretary recommends that this national monument designation be abolished at Bears Ears, what do you expect to happen from there?

SIEGLER: Well, for sure there's going to be a big fight. I think it's likely to go to court either way. The law here is gray about whether a president can actually abolish a national monument. Prior precedent says that only Congress can. The interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, has hinted as early as in his confirmation hearings that this law may need to be tested.

And there is already some echoes here of some big protests that may be in the works not unlike the land occupation and the protests we saw up in North Dakota over the pipeline at Standing Rock. As we speak right now, Audie, my inbox is clogged with press releases notifying me that tribes are meeting within the national monument right now in solidarity of protecting the land down in southeastern Utah.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Kirk Siegler. Thanks so much.

SIEGLER: Thank you, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE GIRLS SONG, "CURLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.

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