A version of this story appeared in Greenwire.
The Interior Department has released additional pages from a leaked document identifying potential sites for new national monuments, but the move did nothing to quell Republican accusations that the Obama administration is plotting to lock up public lands.
House Republicans in February received a copy of pages 15 through 21 of an internal agency memorandum that details 14 Western sites potentially eligible for national monument designation under the Antiquities Act of 1906, a law that allows the president to create new monuments without congressional approval.
Republicans have pressured Interior officials to release the rest of the document, including by pushing a "disclosure resolution" through the House Natural Resources Committee in the spring. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) yesterday announced Interior had handed over the first 14 pages of the document to his office in late July.
The newly released pages detail the Bureau of Land Management's goals for expanding its National Landscape Conservation System and endorse expanding NLCS holdings through legislative efforts. More specifically, the document suggests the agency should use land management plans to enhance and protect "ecosystem-service values" on federal lands, work to consolidate lands that remain under "checkerboard" federal-private ownership status across the West, and improve coordination between agencies to maintain healthy wildlife populations, ecosystems, airsheds, watersheds and riparian areas.
BLM considers up to 140 million acres of land -- more than half of the 264 million acres it manages -- as "treasured lands," the document says.
The document calls on the administration to first support legislative efforts for new conservation designations and turn to executive action "should the legislative process not prove fruitful."
"However, the BLM recognizes that public support and acceptance of preservation status is best achieved when the public has an opportunity to participate in a land-use planning or legislative process," the document says.
'Blatant' attempt to exclude stakeholders
Such assurances did little to satisfy Bishop, chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, who said the new details support his charges that the Obama administration is planning to block energy development across millions of acres of Western lands.
"Thousands of Westerners whose livelihoods depend upon access to our public lands stand to be affected by these decisions, and yet this document blatantly goes out of its way to exclude their input or participation," Bishop said. "If there was any question about whether or not this administration has declared a war on the West, these new documents are evidence enough."
But Interior officials say the document reflects an initial brainstorming session about which areas may merit more serious consideration.
"Secretary Salazar believes it is important that the Department of the Interior serve as wise steward of the places that matter most to Americans," said department spokeswoman Jordan Montoya. "For that reason, he has asked [Interior's] bureaus to think about what areas might be worth considering for further review for possible special management or congressional designation."
It remains to be seen whether the newly released pages, and Interior's attempts to explain their meaning, will assuage lawmakers who have introduced multiple bills that would constrain the president's authority to designate new national monuments (Land Letter, March 4).
One measure, sponsored by Rep. David Nunes (R-Calif.), would allow the president to set aside land for national monuments, but a monument could only be created if Congress approved the designation within two years. If the two-year deadline passed without congressional approval, the land would return to its original status.
Such proposals have won support from a number of influential groups, including the National Association of Counties, the Public Lands Council and numerous livestock associations (Land Letter, July 1).
Click here to read the full 21-page Interior document.
Reporter Daniel Cusick contributed.
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