Democrats ask Trump to explain why Bears Ears decision was made without Forest Service input

December 1, 2017, 3:55 PM

— -- Two democrats on the Senate Agriculture committee have asked President Donald Trump to provide specific details about his decision to shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument, which is expected to be announced Monday.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Michael Bennett say that Stephen Vaden, who is under consideration as nominee for USDA general counsel, told them the Forest Service did not recommend removing any land from the monuments and that the USDA's recommendations were sent to the Department of the Interior without Forest Service input.

"Mr. Vaden indicated that USDA’s submissions to DOI were sent without a recommendation for removing Forest Service acreage from the monuments under review. In response to questioning about what specific Forest Service acres USDA recommended removing from national monuments, Mr. Vaden reiterated that, 'No specific acres were recommended for removal,'" the senators wrote in their letter to the president.

The Forest Service manages 289,000 acres of the Bears Ears National Monument, according to its website, and the Bureau of Land Management manages the remaining 1.06 million acres. Trump is expected to announce that Bears Ears will be reduced to around 180,000 acres, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The review of national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act was initiated by an executive order Trump signed in April that called for the Secretary of Interior to look into whether monuments were created without proper consideration of input from the public and state, tribal, and local governments.

The senators are asking the president to clarify whether any land being managed by the Forest Service will be removed from Bears Ears National Monument or any other monuments under review and to identify specifically which areas will be removed and what legal authority he has to do so.

Monday's announcement is expected to face almost immediate legal challenges from environmental groups and groups that advocate for protecting public lands who say that the Antiquities Act does not give the president the authority to eliminate national monuments once they've been created.

Separately the Bureau of Land Management announced today that 29 parcels of land in southeastern Utah, many of which are close to the national monument or other protected areas, will in March be made available for sale for oil and gas activity.

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