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Local tribal members decry national monument recommendations

COACHELLA, Calif. - Local conservation and tribal leaders decried the Department of the Interior's report recommending boundary reductions to several national monuments.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke's report adds two monuments stretching across California, Oregon, and Nevada to the list of landmarks to be reduced.

The report came one day after Zinke and President Donald Trump announced modifications to two monuments in southern Utah: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Boundary revisions to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument -- which stretches across southern Oregon and northern California -- and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, were also recommended in Tuesday's report.

The Native American Land Conservancy, a Coachella Valley-based nonprofit aimed at protecting tribal land, called it "the single largest sell out of public lands and waters in our nation's history.''

NALC President and Cahuilla Band of Indians member Michael Madrigal said, "America's national monuments were established on well-documented facts about the cultural and natural resources placed under the monuments' protection. In the case of many national monuments, Native American tribes have lived on these lands for thousands of years. National monuments link our 
history with the present and the future. They deserve full protection under the law, to preserve our legacy, our culture and our connection with the land.'' 

More than two dozen national monuments came under scrutiny this year following an executive order signed by Trump, calling for a review of all monuments over 100,000 acres.

In calling for the monuments' review, Trump said the Antiquities Act of 1906, which grants the president authority to declare federal lands of historic or scientific value as national monuments, was an "egregious abuse of federal power.''

On Monday, Trump said, "The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it's time we ended this abusive practice. Public lands will once again be for public use.''

Tribal leaders accused the administration of ignoring Native American concerns, though the Department of the Interior said that Zinke met with tribal representatives in Utah, New Mexico, Oregon, Maine and "everywhere in between'' before making his recommendations.

"America has spoken and public land belongs to the people,'' Zinke said. "As I visited the monuments across this country, I met with Americans on all sides of the issue -- from ranchers to conservationists to tribal leaders --  and found that we agree on wanting to protect our heritage while still allowing public access to public land. My recommendations to the president reflect that, in some circumstances, proclamations should be amended, boundaries revised, and management plans updated.''   

But tribe members say the majority of public comments lodged during the Department of the Interior's public comment period were expressly in opposition to altering any monument boundaries.   

Anthony Madrigal Jr., tribal historic officer for the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, said: "This process ignored tribal input, favoring top-down decision-making on lands that have deeply rooted ancestral and spiritual connections to existing and future generations. Reducing protections for our cultural and sacred sites circumvents the government-to-government consultation process and continues to do irreparable harm to tribal landscapes and communities.''

The 154,000-acre Sand to Snow National Monument, which stretches from the San Gorgonio wilderness area of the San Bernardino National Forest into the Coachella Valley, was among those landmarks initially under review. However, in August, Zinke announced that no changes would come to the monument.


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