US interior chief says he won't eliminate protected lands

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, created by President Barack Obama in 2014 and placed under review in April by President Donald Trump, would likely remain in place, but could potentially shrink, under recommendations submitted to the White House today by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Zinke did not reveal any specifics about his recommendations on the fate of more than two dozen monuments under review across the country. But he said the recommendations “will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and also provide a much needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses and recreation.''

Zinke told the Associated Press earlier Thursday that he was not recommending the elimination of any of the national monuments under review, but some of them might be reduced in size. He did not provide any specifics.

A summary of Zinke's report released by the Interior Department also did not give any specifics about the recommendations.

Trump's executive order in April demanded the review of monuments designated since 1996 under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which grants the president authority to declare federal lands of historic or scientific value as national monuments.

Trump said his executive order would “end another egregious abuse of federal power'' and “give that power back to the states and to the people, where it belongs.''

He also said the Antiquities Act “unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control ... eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land.''

Zinke's report concurred with the need for the study, noting that the Antiquities Act had been used by presidents 26 times since 1996 to create monuments more than 100,000 acres in size.

“No president should use the authority under the act to restrict public access, preventing hunting and fishing, burden private land or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object,'' according to the report. It goes on to note that the use of “executive power'' under the act “is not a substitute for a lack of congressional action on protective land designations.''

Obama created the 346,000-acre San Gabriel Mountains monument northeast of Los Angeles via executive order. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, had originally pushed to have 600,000 acres of the mountain range declared a national monument, but never gained traction for the idea in Congress.

Some Republican lawmakers criticized the move at the time, saying it would restrict access to public land and have a negative impact on water resources, flood control facilities and roads.

Chu and other local elected officials gathered earlier this week in support of the national monument, calling for it to remain untouched in Zinke's review.

 “We want our San Gabriel Monument to stay as it is, and we want outdoor spaces, nature and fresh air for the people of Los Angeles County,'' Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, said at a news conference at Los Angeles Historic Park.

Zinke's recommendations will be reviewed by Trump, who will have the final say over any possible changes.

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