Trump to Order Review of Protected Federal Lands - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Trump to Order Review of Protected Federal Lands

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(NBC) -

President Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Wednesday ordering a review of the status of tens of thousands of acres of federally protected public lands — a controversial move likely to draw fire from environmental groups and others.

The order, which the president will sign at the Department of Interior, focuses on the past 20 years of national monument designations outlined in the Antiquities Act and spanning more than 100,000 acres, administration officials said.

In the crosshairs: the controversial Bears Ears National Monument. The President Barack Obama-designated Utah monument includes 1.3 million acres of land and will be the central focus of the interim review due back to the president within 45 days, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday evening.

Republican critics of Bears Ears have called for the federal designation to be rescinded and for the land to be given back to the state.

Bears Ears derives its name from two rock cliffs that resemble ears on a bear's head. It holds sacred cultural value to Native American peoples and includes archaeological sites.

"In the case of significant public land use, we feel the public should be considered. That's why the president is asking for a review," Zinke said, repeatedly stressing the need for local communities and state officials to have a voice in the process. In the case of Bears Ears, he said that the federal government should coordinate with Utah officials and lawmakers.

The fear on the part of some environmentalists and administration critics regarding the review is that it could be a step toward rescinding or altering their designation as federally protected monuments, including possibly reducing the size of the protected lands, and that it could open up the territories to exploitation by the oil and gas industries.

Zinke affirmed, as he did during his Senate confirmation hearings, his opposition to the sale or transfer of public lands to states or private groups, and he pushed back on arguments the review could set the stage for an assault by the oil and gas industries as a "false narrative."

Blaming a "polarized" media for the claim, Zinke stressed "the core of this is to make sure public has a voice."

While the president has the ability to designate public lands as national monuments, it's unclear whether the Antiquities Act allows for the White House to rescind or diminish the size of previously designated monuments. More likely, the administration could make the case for trimming the size of the national monuments — something Zinke alluded to during the briefing.

He highlighted a portion of the 1906 law that said the president should "designate the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected." That the average size of monuments designations has increased over the years "should be worthy of notice," Zinke pointed out.

In keeping with the administration's interest in using executive orders to keep campaign promises as Trump nears his 100th day in office on Saturday, the Interior Secretary said the review is, "Another example of the president doing exactly what he's said in his campaign promises."

Zinke estimated that about 30 monuments will be reviewed.

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