BEARS EARS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Utah — Parts of this sprawling region of red-rock canyons, towering mesas and ancient Native American sites in southeastern Utah could lose their strict federal protection as a national monument, under a recommendation that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is expected to issue on Thursday.
Shrinking the Bears Ears National Monument and reopening much of the land for possible mining and drilling would be widely seen as a direct blow to former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy, and the first major test of a century-old conservation law.
In April, President Trump ordered a sweeping review of 27 national monuments that were designated or expanded in recent years under the Antiquities Act. Along with Bears Ears, the review included monuments like Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico, Mojave Trails in California and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine. National monuments are strictly protected from new development in much the same way the national parks are.
Mr. Zinke told the Associated Press on Thursday morning that he would propose boundary changes to a “handful” of national monuments, but that he would not recommend eliminating any of them. Mr. Zinke, who was in Billings, Mont., for a briefing on wildfires, was expected to release his recommendation later in the day.
Native American tribes in the Southwest, who lobbied for years to get the Bears Ears region designated a national monument, are expected to fight any move to reduce its size. Charles Wilkinson, a professor of public land law and adviser to the tribes, called Mr. Zinke’s expected decision “an attack on a significant part of the foundation of American conservation law” and said, “We have our complaint already ready to file.”
Outdoor recreation and environmental groups are also expected to fight to preserve the monuments.
Mr. Trump said in April that the goal of the review was to end “another egregious use of federal power” and give the states more say in how public lands are used.