Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke informed President Donald Trump on Monday that he was delaying his decision on the controversial Bears Ears National Monument, putting off the final decision until later in 2017.
In a memo to the President, Zinke says he has produced at "45-day interim report" on the national monument -- as is requested in the executive order Trump signed in April -- and will issue a "more detailed final report" later this year.
The decision delays any certainty for Bears Ears, a 1.3-million-acre parcel of lands that includes world-class rock climbing, age-old cliff dwellings and land sacred to Pueblo Indians that Obama designated a monument in 2016.
Trump's order authorized Zinke to review federal lands designated by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, setting up a possibly historic decision that would make Trump the first president to shrink a national monument.
Because of public pressure from Republicans in Utah, Trump expedited the review of Bears Ears. But Monday's decision will now lump the controversial national monument in with 24 other national monuments, including Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Basin and Range National Monument, as well as a host of Pacific Ocean monuments.
An Interior Department spokesperson said that the report produced by Zinke and released Monday does make some recommendations, but "there is not a final plan within the recommendations."
This complies with the executive order, which "directed a 45-day interim report" and did not require a final report, the spokesperson said.
Zinke visited Bear Ears in May, meeting with different stakeholders in the fight over Bears Ears, including a host of Native American tribes who have long viewed parts of the land sacred.
But local officials, including Republicans in Salt Lake City, have pushed the Trump administration to rescind national monument status for the land.
"We are not people who are trying to seek lots of riches. We are focused on a way of life. And we think that government overreach interferes with those connections that we have to the land," said Bruce Adams, a San Juan County commissioner.
Phil Lyman, another county commissioner who met with Interior officials earlier this month, said he thinks the Trump administration would "like to rescind the monument just to test that ability to rescind a monument but beyond that."
But just as there has been a vocal push to de-list the monument, there has been an equally vocal opposition, made up of Native American tribes and environmental and conservation groups.
"Bears Ears and other national monuments were designated after significant community input because they are a critical part of our national heritage and have exceptional ecological characteristics worth protecting for future generations," said Rose Marcario, president and CEO of the outdoor outfitter Patagonia. "It's extremely disturbing to see the Trump administration apparently laying the groundwork to remove protections on our public lands."
A number of groups have said they intend to sue the Trump administration if they rescind the national monument status.