Missouri Breaks

The national monument on Montana's Upper Missouri River Breaks covers about 377,346 acres of federal land, including the Breaks country north of the river.

Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are moving to restrict the president's ability to protect millions of acres of federal land considered historic, geographically significant or culturally important.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said presidents of both parties have misused the 1906 Antiquities Act to create oversized monuments that hinder energy development, grazing and other uses. Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced a bill that would prevent presidents from designating monuments larger than 85,000 acres and grant veto power to states and local officials for monuments larger than 10,000 acres.

The GOP-controlled resources panel approved the bill Wednesday, 23-17, sending it to the House floor.

"No longer would we have to blindly trust any president to do the right thing," Bishop said, adding that his bill "modernizes the law to restore its intent, allowing for the protection of actual antiquities without disenfranchisement of local voices and perspectives."

Montana's lone congressman Republican Greg Gianforte was among the majority voting for the resolution.

“The previous administration made unilateral decisions about expanding the size of a monument without public input and behind closed doors. The bill would increase transparency, establish a public process, and require public input while preserving the original intent of the Antiquities Act," Gianforte said in a statement.

The bill comes as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that four large national monuments in the West be reduced in size, potentially opening hundreds of thousands of acres to mining and logging.

Zinke's recommendation has prompted an outcry from environmental groups, who promised to take the Trump administration to court to block the moves.

Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, senior Democrat on the resources panel, called Bishop's bill a tacit admission by the GOP that President Donald Trump does not have legal authority to reduce or abolish existing national monuments.

Grijalva charged that the bill was "thrown together at the last minute with only one special interest group in mind: the oil and gas industry."

The interior secretary's plan would scale back two huge Utah monuments — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — along with Nevada's Gold Butte and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou. The monuments encompass more than 3.6 million acres — an area larger than Connecticut — and were created by Democratic administrations under the Antiquities Act.

Zinke's plan also would allow logging at a newly designated monument in Maine and urges more grazing, hunting and fishing at two sites in New Mexico. It also calls for a new assessment of border-safety risks at a monument in southern New Mexico.

Environmental groups and the outdoor recreation industry condemned the GOP bill.

Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario called the bill "dangerous" and said Bishop "should recognize the committee he leads is meant to protect our natural resources, not destroy them."

The vote drew similar criticism for some in Montana's conservation community, which campaigned against Zinke's national monument review.

"Today Congressman Gianforte dismissed the overwhelming support Montanans gave national monuments over the summer, when more than 24,000 of us spoke up in defense of the Upper Missouri River Breaks (National Monument) and other places vital to our outdoor heritage," said John Todd, Montana Wilderness Association conservation director. "The bill he voted for puts the Breaks in perpetual jeopardy and cripples one of the best tools we have for permanently protecting the places that define us as Montanans and as Americans."

Zinke and the Interior report do not recommend changes to the Missouri River Breaks.

The Independent Record's Tom Kuglin contributed to this story

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