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Hearing Today Questions Feds’ Attacks on National Monuments

The Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument's future remains uncertain after a federal review in 2017 produced no decisions. (New Mexico Wilderness Alliance)
The Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument's future remains uncertain after a federal review in 2017 produced no decisions. (New Mexico Wilderness Alliance)
March 13, 2019

SANTA FE, N. M. – Protecting national monuments is the subject of a hearing today in the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.

Tribal leaders and state public-lands officials will testify about the impact of President Donald Trump's decision to slash millions of acres from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

According to Dan Hartinger, National Monuments Campaign director for The Wilderness Society, the U.S. Interior Department also reviewed the sizes of New Mexico's Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, but hasn't yet made a decision on their future.

"Those New Mexico monuments were part of this review," Hartinger said, "and that's why it's incredibly important for New Mexico to see the committee investigate this, and get to the bottom of what the Trump administration's faulty decision-making was based on."

The administration has said its goal is to protect important sites while still allowing for energy and mineral extraction. But on Tuesday, President Trump signed S. 47, a sweeping public-lands package that gives wilderness protections to 273,000 acres in New Mexico.

Multiple lawsuits are in process that challenge making Utah's national monuments smaller.

Nicole Croft, executive director of the nonprofit Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, said the proposed Antiquities Act of 2019 would make it clear that a U.S. President can only expand or create national monuments, not shrink them.

"It's really clear to us that Congress has the responsibility and the authority to make boundary changes or to codify," said Croft. "We really don't believe that this is an issue that has presidential authority, and so, any changes to reduce or to expand really are within the hands of Congress."

And Ani Kame'enui, director of legislation and policy for the National Parks Conservation Association, said national monuments across the country would benefit from updates to the Antiquities Act.

"The Antiquities Act of 2019 actually protects over 50 existing national monuments," she explained. "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."

The bill has more than a dozen cosponsors for the House and Senate versions, including New Mexico's Rep. Deb Haaland, Sen. Tom Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich, all Democrats.

A second bill, known as the BEARS Act, would expand Bears Ears to 1.9 million acres, the boundaries proposed by a coalition of tribes.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NM