Environment & Science

California's national monuments will not be eliminated, but may be modified

Amboy Crater is an extinct cinder cone volcano located along Route 66 in the Mojave Trails National Monument, which is under review by the Trump Administration.
Amboy Crater is an extinct cinder cone volcano located along Route 66 in the Mojave Trails National Monument, which is under review by the Trump Administration.
Bureau of Land Management / Flickr Creative Commons

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending boundary revisions for "a handful" of national monuments but no eliminations. It is not yet clear if any of the millions of acres of protected federal land in California will be modified, because the White House has yet to release the findings of Zinke's review.

Zinke made his comments to the Associated Press on Thursday morning, but isn't providing any additional details of his plan beyond proposals disclosed earlier to downsize the Bears Ears monument in Utah and leave six others unchanged. A summary statement released by the Interior Department today revealed little that is not already general knowledge about the review.

Five national monuments in California, including one in Los Angeles’ backyard, could be affected as part of Zinke's review of all large national monuments created since 1996. 

Key details -- like which monuments will be downsized, and by how much -- are now in the hands of the the White House, which has received Zinke's final monument review and is looking it over, according to Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee Rob Bishop, Republican of Utah. Bishop said he didn't know exactly when President Trump would make the review public.

"It has to be sooner rather than later," he told reporters on a conference call on Thursday morning, adding that he hasn't been fully briefed on the final report, either.

Democratic lawmakers slammed the administration's decision to withhold the report from the public.

“The American people have the right to see his entire report," California Senator Dianne Feinstein who opposes any changes to the state's monuments, wrote in a statement. "A proposal to strip protections from public lands should be made public immediately.”

Congresswoman Judy Chu, who represents the San Gabriel Valley and was a vocal supporter of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, also weighed in, as did Rep. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach.

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Any move by the Trump administration to slim down monuments may trigger legal showdowns over whether one chief executive can undo or modify another's decisions about them. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has previously said he will sue the Trump administration if it alters any of California's monuments.

President Trump ordered the unprecedented review in April as part of an executive order he said was designed to combat “the abusive practice” of turning lands already owned by the federal government into national monuments by giving them a higher level of protection from mining, logging and other extractive industries.

“I’ve spoken with many state and local leaders who care very much about preserving our land, and who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab,” Trump said on April 26. “It’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we’re going to free it up.”

Angel Torres, 7, and his brother, Kevin, 6, play in a river in the San Gabriel Mountains. President Obama designated part of the area in the Los Angeles National Forest a national monument.
Angel Torres, 7, and his brother, Kevin, 6, play in a river in the San Gabriel Mountains. President Obama designated part of the area in the Los Angeles National Forest a national monument.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

The president directed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to study 27 national monuments and make sure they had been created with sufficient local input, and did not put up barriers to energy development and economic growth. 

That included six in California: Berryessa Snow Mountain, Carrizo Plain, Giant Sequoia, Mojave Trails, San Gabriel Mountains and Sand to Snow. 

CALIFORNIA MONUMENT YEAR CREATED ACREAGE
Berryessa Snow Mountain 2015 330,780
Carrizo Plain 2001 204,107
Giant Sequoia 2000 327,760
Mojave Trails 2016 1,600,000
San Gabriel Mountains 2014 346,177

 

Earlier this month, Zinke announced he would not be modifying Sand to Snow National Monument, which protects a diverse desert and alpine environment that stretches from the top of the San Bernardino Mountains to the base of the range near Palm Springs.  But the fate of five other California monuments is still up in the air.

As part of the review, Zinke, a former Montana congressman, traveled throughout the West visiting various monuments – although he did not visit California, despite the state having the most monuments under review of any state.

That disappointed Daniel Rossman, the acting California Director of the Wilderness Society.

“If the priority is meeting with local communities, come talk to us!” he said. “The fact that he’s chosen not to really goes to discrediting the notion that this process is about inclusion and fairness, and is more about adhering to special interests.”

A driver rides the Angeles Crest Highway (State Route 2) in the Angeles National Forest on October 2, 2013 in the San Gabriel Mountains. More than seventeen million people live within 90 minutes of the national monument.
A driver rides the Angeles Crest Highway (State Route 2) in the Angeles National Forest on October 2, 2013 in the San Gabriel Mountains. More than seventeen million people live within 90 minutes of the national monument.
David McNew/Getty Images

The Department of Interior didn’t respond for a request for comment on Zinke’s travel schedule. But even though the Secretary did not visit California, he has no shortage of comments to wade through. More than 2.8 public comments poured in, and an analysis of just over a million that were available online found that 99.2 percent supported keeping the monuments intact. 

“If there are recommendations that come down the pike that do anything more than keep the monuments as they are designated today, one would have to wonder where he actually got those recommendations, because it certainly wasn’t from the American public,” said Pamela Flick, California Representative with the Defenders of Wildlife.

The Department of Interior's summary of its review appeared to give equal weight to opponents and supporters of the monuments, even as it noted that supporters far outweighed those who wanted the monuments reduced or abolished.

Comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments and demonstrated a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations. Opponents of monuments primarily supported rescinding or modifying the existing monuments to protect traditional multiple use, and those most concerned were often local residents associated with industries such as grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and fishing, and motorized recreation. Opponents point to other cases where monument designation has resulted in reduced public access, road closures, hunting and fishing restrictions, multiple and confusing management plans, reduced grazing allotments and timber production, and pressure applied to private land owners encompassed by or adjacent to a monument to sell.

In making his decision, Zinke may be listening to seventeen Western congressmen, who wrote a letter urging changes at many of California monuments, including San Gabriel Mountains and Mojave Trails, the two still under review in Southern California. 

The Mojave Trails National Monument protects a huge section of historic Route 66.
The Mojave Trails National Monument protects a huge section of historic Route 66.
Bureau of Land Management / Flickr Creative Commons

Congressman Paul Cook (R), who represents the Eastern California desert, was especially vocal. He sent Secretary Zinke maps outlining how he’d like Mojave Trails to be changed to permit existing mines to expand. He also requested the agency alter the boundaries of Castle Mountains National Monument, which was not included in the review, to allow mining there (Zinke did not take him up on that request).

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that federal policies implemented over the last decade have favored a myopic environmentalism at the expense of economic and recreational activities,” Cook wrote, “Anything that you can do to restore this balance would be of tremendous benefit to my district.”

This story has been updated.