Senators: USDA did not recommend removal of Forest Service land in Trump national monument review
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., ranking member of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources, raised concerns to U.S. President Donald Trump regarding reports that his administration will significantly reduce the size of several National Monuments containing U.S. Forest Service land, despite not having a specific recommendation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do so.
In April, President Trump signed an Executive Order requiring Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in coordination with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and others, to review 27 national monuments that were designated by previous presidents. Based on information provided to the Senate Agriculture Committee by a USDA official, “No specific acres were recommended for removal.” Despite this lack of recommendation, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration plans to significantly shrink the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which contains 289,000 acres of Forest Service land. In addition to Bears Ears, there are four National Monuments under review in California containing Forest Service land, which could be subject to cuts.
Due to the unprecedented nature of this national monument review, the senators wrote to President Trump to ask how he plans to proceed with monuments containing Forest Service land in light of USDA’s submissions to the review.
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear President Trump,
We write today with concerns regarding your Administration’s review, led by Secretary Zinke, of national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906 under Executive Order 13792. Yesterday’s Washington Post reported that you plan to reduce the size of two monuments by unprecedented amounts — a reduction of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by 50 percent.
In advance of any decision to attempt to modify the boundaries of national monuments, we write to seek specific details regarding your plans for treatment of certain acres within five national monuments that are managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.
We have previously written Secretary Perdue and raised questions regarding the USDA’s role in the national monument review led by Secretary Zinke. In response to our letter Secretary Perdue indicated that National Forest System lands could be affected by the review. During the course of the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee’s consideration of Stephen Vaden’s nomination to be General Counsel of the Agriculture Department, Mr. Vaden stated that USDA had provided data and information regarding Forest Service lands to Secretary Zinke’s Department of Interior during the national monument review. 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.”
Because of the implications for USDA Forest Service land stemming from any future executive actions regarding national monuments, please promptly respond to the following questions:
Do you plan to recommend removal of Forest Service acres from the current boundary of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah?
Do you plan to recommend removal of Forest Service acres from the current boundaries of any of the four California national monuments under review containing Forest Service acres?
If the answer to question one or two was yes, please explain why you plan to recommend removal of Forest Service acres where USDA did not recommend removal of Forest Service acres from these monuments.
If the answer to question one or two was yes, indicate which specific acres are recommended for removal in each of the national forests.
It has been reported that you plan to shrink two national moments by significant amounts — 85 percent and 50 percent respectively. This is unprecedented. Legal scholars have disputed that Presidents have the authority to reduce national monuments. If you plan to recommend reduction of any national monuments, do you plan to seek legal authority to reduce any such national monuments? If not, do you believe that the President has the authority to shrink, diminish, rescind, modify or revoke the acreage that comprises an existing national monument? If your response is yes, please provide a citation for any such legal authority.
Do you believe that the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976 made clear that only Congress has the authority to modify and revoke withdrawals for national monuments created under the Antiquities Act? If not, why not? Explain.
Please respond to the above questions no later than Dec. 15, 2017. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resource
Cc: The Honorable Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture
The Honorable Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior