WASHINGTON (AP) — Colorado's Canyons of the Ancients National Monument has been removed from a list of national monuments under review for possible elimination or reduction, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Friday.
The monument is the third Zinke has removed from a review of 27 national monuments ordered by President Donald Trump. Trump said monument designations imposed by previous presidents amounted to "a massive federal land grab" that "should never have happened." Monument designations protect federal land from energy development and other activities.
When he and Trump launched the review, "we absolutely realized that not all monuments are the same and that not all monuments would require modifications," Zinke said.
Canyons of the Ancients, which covers 178,000 acres is southwestern Colorado, is "gorgeous land," Zinke said, adding that its Native American archaeological sites were even more important. The site spans thousands of years, and Zinke said federal protections "will help us preserve this site for a thousand more years."
Last week, Zinke removed two other monuments, in Idaho and Washington state, from his review of monuments created since 1996. A full report is due next month.
Twenty-four other national monuments, mostly in the West, face curtailing or elimination of protections put in place over the past two decades by presidents from both parties. Monuments under review include Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Nevada's Basin and Range and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine.
Zinke toured the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon over the weekend and is expected to visit other monuments before making a recommendation on whether the monuments should be abolished or resized.
Kate Kelly, a former Interior official under President Barack Obama, said Zinke's decision to remove the three monuments was welcome but appeared arbitrary.
"While it's good news that Zinke has decided these three national monuments can live to see another day, it underscores that the fate of 24 more monuments rests in the hands of a process without logic or transparency," said Kelly, public lands director at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. hailed Zinke's action, saying he repeatedly urged him not to change the monument's designation.
"Coloradans cherish our state's public lands, and I'm thrilled the Department of the Interior listened to Coloradans and will make no changes to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument's designation," Gardner said.
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