WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday again called on President Donald Trump to shrink a total of four national monuments — including Southern Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou — and change the way 10 others are managed, a sweeping overhaul of how protected areas are maintained in the United States.
Zinke's report comes a day after Trump signed two proclamations in Utah that downsized two massive national monuments there — Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 46 percent. The president had directed Zinke in April to review 27 national monuments established since 1996 under the Antiquities Act, which gives the president broad authority to safeguard federal lands and waters under threat.
In addition to the Utah sites, Zinke confirmed in a call with reporters that he still supports cutting Nevada's Gold Butte and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou southeast of Ashland, though the exact reductions are still being determined. He also would revise the proclamations for those sites and others to clarify that grazing and motorized vehicle use should be allowed.
"The Antiquities Act over time has done great things for our country, and it has protected some of our greatest treasures," he said, adding that Trump was "absolutely right" to conduct the report because some of his predecessors had abused their authority.
"When the powers are abused to make a monument into a park, that is not within the powers of the president under the Antiquities Act to do," he said.
Zinke criticized the federal government's past action halting motorized vehicle traffic in Cascade-Siskiyou until a transportation plan could be finalized, arguing that it interfered with local cross-country ski operators' ability to maintain trails.
"It should have been the other way around," he said.
For several sites, Zinke recommended amending monuments' proclamation language to ensure that activities such as grazing, hunting and fishing can continue. While these practices often go on even after a presidential designation, Zinke said he wants to make that legality clear because ranchers have felt marginalized and fear they will face future restrictions.
In the case of New Mexico's Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte, Zinke said, he listened to the state's two Democratic senators and others in deciding not to change their boundaries. But he wants "to make sure that the proclamation protects the long-standing grazing [in parts] of those monuments" and that management of Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks does not interfere with U.S. Customs and Border Control operations in the area.
The Trump administration is already facing multiple lawsuits over the president's decision Monday to scale back both Bears Ears, a sacred tribal site the Barack Obama designated a year ago, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, a reservoir of prehistoric fossils that Bill Clinton established in 1996.
"I don't yield to public pressure," Zinke said. "Sound public policy is not based on threats of lawsuit, it's doing what's right."
But lawsuits appear inevitable. Dave Willis, chair of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, said in a press release Monday that Trump's decision to reduce the two Utah monuments flies in the face of what Congress intended.
“In the Antiquities Act Congress gave presidents the power to protect public lands – but not the power to unprotect public lands,” said Willis, who has worked for more than 30 years on efforts to protect the Cascade-Siskiyou area and create the national monument. He notes the expansion of the now 114,000-acre monument was smaller in scope than scientists recommended.
“Trump’s attempted Utah monument rollbacks will be challenged in court,” said Willis, an outfitter who lives on private land inside the Cascade-Siskiyou Monument’s outer boundaries. “Legal challenges to Trump’s attacks on national monuments will be successful.”
Zinke said Tuesday he was "fairly confident" Trump would accept all of his recommendations for adjusting the size and management of the named monuments, and that he intends to brief the president "multiple times" in coming weeks to get his sign-off. Zinke also rejected the idea that any of these alterations of existing monuments would amount to relinquishing control of federal land, describing such criticism as "nefarious, false and a lie."
Even as Zinke reaffirmed his stand on the national monuments, the Trump administration agreed it would resume litigation over the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument on Jan. 15 unless the dispute is resolved first, presumably by the president..
Two groups, the Association of O&C Counties and the American Forest Resource Council, sued when then-President Barack Obama nearly doubled the monument's size earlier this year.
The Capital Press reported Tuesday that those groups had agreed to hold off on their litigation while Trump decided whether to roll back the Obama expansion. They want Trump to scale back the monument so it doesn't include so-called "O&C lands."
Eighteen Oregon counties receive logging receipts from those lands under statute. The groups say expanding the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to include those lands was illegal.
— The Washington Post and The Associated Press contributed to this report.