WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Department of the Interior called for changes to the management of 10 national monuments that would lift restrictions on activities such as logging and mining and shrink at least four of the sites, the Washington Post reported.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended that President Donald Trump reduce the boundaries of the monuments known as Utah's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.
Zinke also called for relaxing current restrictions within some of the monuments' boundaries for activities such as grazing, logging, coal mining and commercial fishing, according to a copy of the memo that the Post obtained.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante monument has areas that "contain an estimated several billion tons of coal and large oil deposits," Zinke's report said, suggesting that it could be opened to energy production if Trump makes a reduction in the footprint of the monument.
The Trump administration has promoted "energy dominance," or plans to produce more coal, oil, and gas for domestic use and selling to allies. With Grand Staircase-Escalante being remote, and oil and coal being plentiful elsewhere, it is uncertain if energy interests would actually drill and mine there, if the monument's boundaries were changed.
Trump has said previous administrations abused their right to create monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906 by imposing limits on drilling, mining, logging, ranching and other activities in huge areas, mainly in western states.
The monuments targeted in the memo were created by former presidents George W. Bush, a Republican, and Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. A designation as a national monument prohibits mining and sets stringent protections for ecosystems on the site.
Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift referred questions about the memo to the White House.
"The Trump Administration does not comment on leaked documents, especially internal drafts which are still under review by the President and relevant agencies," White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said in a statement to Reuters.
In June, Zinke told reporters he had recommended shrinking the Bears Ears monument, the country's newest monument, and last month he sent his recommendations to the Republican president after reviewing more than two dozen national monuments. Trump ordered the review in April as part of his broader effort to increase development on federal lands.
Energy, mining, ranching and timber industries have cheered the review, while conservation groups and the outdoor recreation industry threatened lawsuits over what they see as an effort to undo protections of critical natural and cultural resources.
The Sierra Club, an environmental group, said Zinke had "sold out" public lands. "Leaving the protection of Native American sacred sites, outdoor recreation destinations, and natural wonders to the goodwill of polluting industries is a recipe for disaster," Sierra's head Michael Brune said.
Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate energy committee, tweeted that former President Teddy Roosevelt, a conservationist, would "roll over in his grave" if he saw Zinke's "attacks" on public lands.
Besides reducing the four sites, Zinke called for changes at Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters, New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte, two Pacific Ocean marine monuments and another marine one off the New England coast.
Many fishing industry supporters cheered changes outlined in Zinke's memo. Jon Mitchell, the mayor of New Bedford, Massachusetts, a large fishing port, said the marine monument designation process "may have been well intended, but it has simply lacked a comparable level of industry input, scientific rigor and deliberation."
While the antiquities law enables a president to permanently declare certain places of historic or scientific interest a national monument, a few U.S. presidents have reduced the size of some such areas.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Marcy Nicholson)