U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said Thursday he’s recommending none of the 27 national monuments — including Mojave Trails National Monument in California — under review by the Trump administration be eliminated.
Although the elimination of the Mojave Trails appears to be off the table, Zinke may recommend other changes for it and five other national monuments, reported the Associated Press.
Zinke told The Associated Press that unspecified boundary adjustments for some monuments designated over the past four decades will be included in the recommendations he planned to give President Donald Trump on Thursday. None of the sites would revert to new ownership, he said, while public access for uses such as hunting, fishing or grazing would be maintained or restored.
He also spoke of protecting tribal interests and historical land grants, pointing to monuments in New Mexico, where Hispanic ranchers have opposed two monuments proclaimed by President Barack Obama.
Zinke declined to say whether portions of the monuments would be opened up to oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and other industries for which Trump has advocated.
Trump ordered the unprecedented review, especially those created by predecessor Barack Obama, shortly after taking office earlier this year. That prompted fears the 1.6-million-acre Mojave Trails — which includes about 90 miles of Route 66 in Southern California — would be on the chopping block after Obama designated it in February 2016.
As usual, the devil remains in the details with Zinke’s review.
Zinke’s exact recommendations remained unknown as of Thursday night, and the Los Angeles Times reported the report may not be released for weeks. The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, California, reported the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get a copy of Zinke’s report.
The Sun also reported:
More than 2.4 million people submitted comments to the Interior Department during a 60-day comment period, with the vast majority voicing support for leaving the monuments as they are.
Trump could ignore the recommendations and try to order the elimination or vast shrinkage of the national monuments. Either action would prompt immediate lawsuits from California and likely other affected states and Native American tribes.
The AP noted no president has tried to drop a national monument. A few presidents have trimmed acreage.
U.S. Rep. Paul Cook (R-Calif.) has recommended to the Trump administration to cut the Mojave Trails National Monument by 500,000 acres, reported the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week. Cook also has wanted a private company in the monument boundaries, Cadiz Inc., to be allowed to pump billions of gallons of ground water from the Mojave Desert to serve large cities such as San Diego and Los Angeles.
The Chronicle also noted that Zinke, during field research for his review, visited none of the eight potentially affected national monuments in California.
The newspaper also reported this, featuring someone well-known in the Route 66 community:
Jim Conkle, a Marine known as “Mr. Route 66” for his efforts to protect the historic road, said neither Cook nor his staff will talk to him. “They don’t answer my phone calls, my emails, I go over there to see them, they’re there, but they’re not there to me,” he said. “They don’t want anything to do with me. Because they know that I just want to sit down and say, ‘Why are you doing this?’”
(Image of Amboy Crater near Amboy, California, by the Bureau of Land Management via Flickr)