The Valley of Dreams at the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Photo: John Fowler
Environment | National | Politics

Trump administration receives 1.4M comments on national monuments





The Trump administration has closed an unprecedented public comment period on a number of national monuments, including one of great interest in Indian Country.

According to Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Department of the Interior received more than 1.4 million comments as of Monday. when the review ended. Almost all were submitted online at Regulations.gov while others were mailed in.

“Too often under previous administrations, decisions were made in the Washington, D.C., bubble, far removed from the local residents who actually work the land and have to live with the consequences of D.C.’s actions. This monument review is the exact opposite,” Zinke said in a press release on Tuesday.

Despite soliciting input from tribes and the public, Zinke has already made up his mind about the Bears Ears National Monument. He's already told President Donald Trump that the boundaries need to be "right-sized" due to opposition from non-Indian politicians in Utah.

"This last round of public comment was a futile attempt by the administration to garner public opposition," Utah Diné Bikéyah, a grassroots organization on the Navajo Nation that supports Bears Ears, said in a statement on Tuesday.

"There is only one proper outcome in the face of overwhelming public support for the BENM, as well as a solid public record that reflects the monument’s essential role in protecting the cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and natural resources of the region: The administration needs to leave Bears Ears National Monument intact and preserved for future generations," the group added.

A broad group of tribes, known as the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, convinced then-president Barack Obama to protect 1.35 million-acres of sacred sites, ancestral territory and archaeological resources. They were also granted a role in co-managing the new monument with the federal government.

Zinke, however, contends the Bears Ears Commission needs to be authorized by Congress. The recommendations in his interim report were condemned by the five tribes with representatives on the commission.

"The radical idea of breaking up Bears Ears National Monument is a slap in the face to the members of our tribes and an affront to Indian people all across the country," the coalition said in a June 12 statement. "Any attempt to eliminate or reduce the boundaries of this monument would be wrong on every count. Such action would be illegal, beyond the reach of presidential authority."

Lawsuits are expected if Trump indeed reduces the size of the monument.

Federal Register Notice:
Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996; Notice of Opportunity for Public Comment (May 11, 2017)

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Secretary Zinke rejects complaints about consultation and Bears Ears (June 24, 2017)
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Ryan Benally: Bears Ears was a false promise for Native Americans (May 26, 2017)
Documents show few meetings between Secretary Zinke and tribes (May 22, 2017)
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Tribes encounter silence from Secretary Zinke in Bears Ears review (May 2, 2017)
Ute Tribe demands 'voice' as Trump orders review of Bears Ears (April 28, 2017)
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Jacqueline Keeler: New monument marks victory for tribal sites (January 10, 2017)
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