From shrinking national-monument borders to changing management plans and budgets, the threats are coming from many angles*
* This article first appear on trailrunnermag.com
In a leaked memo obtained by the Washington Post on September 17th, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended that President Trump modify or reduce 10 national monuments. The report is the culmination of a months-long review of 27 U.S. national monuments (the review was limited specifically to national monuments created under the 1906 Antiquities Act since January 1996, and only those of at least 100,000 acres).
If these proposed reductions come to fruition, they would be the largest elimination of land protections in U.S. history.
Even if they don’t, there are numerous other threats mounting against public lands, any one of which could set new precedents for the way those lands are managed and funded. What are all these threats, and what can we trail runners do about it?
Zinke’s national monuments proposal
Zinke’s 19-page memo suggests the Trump administration “protect objects and prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades, repair and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.”
Some of these things sound promising – “protecting objects and prioritizing public access,” maintaining “tribal cultural use.” But there are threats mixed in, too—namely, prioritizing “traditional uses.” This means, essentially, opening monuments to grazing, logging, coal mining, oil-and-gas extraction and commercial fishing in marine monuments.
While the memo was scant on specifics, and the White House has declined to comment on the leaked papers, experts like Mark Squillace, a professor of law who served as assistant to former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, believe that the changes could be drastic.
“We do not yet have specific details regarding the scope of the likely reductions, but the early indications are that they will be substantial,” Squillance says.
Bears Ears National Monument, Utah
Perhaps no other monument has become so symbolic of the fight to protect public lands than Bears Ears, an expanse of desert red rock, canyons and mountains in Southeastern Utah designated as a national monument by President Obama in 2016. Zinke recommended shrinking Bears Ears from its original 1.35 million acres down to just 160,000 acres, the “smallest area compatible” with management of the over 100,000 archeological sites within the monument’s current boundaries.
Runner Luke Nelson spent four days running through Bears Ears National Monument in April. “In the roughly 150 miles that I traveled on foot, I learned that [Bears Ears] contains more cultural heritage than I could have ever imagined,” he says. “Around nearly every corner in the canyons there were petroglyphs, pictographs or nearly intact structures. It was simply astounding.”
The proposed reduction has been applauded by farmers, ranchers and the oil industry as it opens previously protected lands to expanded development. However, in reality, the region’s relative remoteness makes energy extraction an unattractive option.
Bears Ears contains hundreds of miles of runnable slickrock trail, and many worry that these reductions will hinder access to those trails. (For trail beta, check out The Best Bears Ears National Monument Hikes, by Morgan Sjogren.)
Zinke’s memo does suggest that acerage taken out of national monuments could be turned into national recreation areas. This designation, reserved for areas that attract a high volume of users, are usually designated by congress and include a land-management plan prepared by the land agency that is responsible for it—typically either the National Forest Service or National Park Service. However, designation as a national recreation area won’t protect those lands from budget cuts, which could halt trail maintenance and park law enforcement.
— Jeremy J Nichols (@ClimateWest) November 11, 2017