PNS Daily Newscast - March 22, 2019 

President Trump rattles the Middle East, saying the U.S. will recognize Israel’s authority over the Golan Heights. Also on our Friday rundown: A judge blocks laws limiting the power of the new Wisconsin governor. Plus, momentum builds across party lines to abolish the death penalty.

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Congress Investigates Trump’s Nat'l. Monument Reductions

The Bears Ears National Monument's size was reduced by 85 percent in 2017 by President Donald Trump, leaving hundreds of archaeological sites unprotected. (PunkToad/Flickr)
The Bears Ears National Monument's size was reduced by 85 percent in 2017 by President Donald Trump, leaving hundreds of archaeological sites unprotected. (PunkToad/Flickr)
March 13, 2019

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Today, a congressional oversight committee takes up the federal government's dismantling of national monuments in Utah and other western states.

The House Natural Resources Committee, led by Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, hears testimony from elected officials, tribal representatives and conservation advocates. Most are backing new, bipartisan legislation aimed at shoring up the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, and other public lands.

Nicole Croft, executive director of the Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, says reducing the size of the two Utah monuments has put thousands of artifacts and fragile environments at risk.

"There are over 700 significant paleontological sites that were cut out of the monument,” says Croft. “And for a landscape that was set aside for conservation, to see it stripped so gratuitously of its protection is very alarming and concerning."

The Utah monuments border Arizona and New Mexico. The committee is investigating President Donald Trump's December 2017 removal of protections from the two national monuments, and hear testimony on two bills – the Antiquities Act of 2019 and the BEARS Act.

Dan Hartinger, national monuments director with The Wilderness Society, says the administration's argument that states should have more say in how public lands are managed doesn't really hold water.

"It's important to recognize that these are federal public lands that are owned by all Americans,” says Hartinger. “And so, while local input is certainly important, it's not appropriate to sort of cede the decision-making on behalf of all Americans to a single state."

Ani Kame'enui, director of legislation and policy for the National Parks Conservation Association, says one new proposal would update the 1906 American Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the ability to protect archaeological sites on public lands.

"The Antiquities Act of 2019 actually protects over 50 existing national monuments,” says Kame'enui. “And what it would help do is finalize management plans, codify the boundaries as they were originally designated, and provide some additional protections and funding for the national monuments."

Under the original Antiquities Act, President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996, and President Barack Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument in 2016.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ