- Bob Wick/BLM/Flickr
Out of 27 national monuments under review since President Donald Trump's April 26 directive to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is the only one in Colorado. In 2000, President Bill Clinton protected the 275-square-mile expanse located near Cortez in the southwest corner of the state. It has the highest density of archaeological sites in the country — more than 6,350 recorded sites — including Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, kivas, sweat lodges and petroglyphs. Before the area was protected, due to lack of proper oversight, thousands of artifacts that date back as far as 10,000 years were looted.
Gov. John Hickenlooper met with Zinke in April to advocate for Canyons of the Ancients, stating in a release the next day that "I have been reassured that it is unlikely any of Colorado's monuments will be reviewed." But Canyons of the Ancients remained on the review list.
Sen. Michael Bennet then joined Hickenlooper, sending to a letter to Zinke on May 22 in which they cite State of the Rockies Project data at Colorado College as showing "a strong majority of Coloradans prioritize protecting water, air, and wildlife with opportunities for recreation on public land over more development on those lands...
"We urge you not to modify monument designations in Colorado and warn against taking unprecedented steps to roll back protections for existing national monuments. Such actions would deprive the future generations of Americans who have yet to experience these iconic landscapes or study their rich history."
On May 23, Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton stepped up to petition Zinke via an open letter to leave the area alone, noting "estimates that there may be between 20,000 and 30,000 sites within the boundaries of the monument" above those already recorded. Going on to cite existing funding challenges to support infrastructure and tourism, they argued: "The designation of Canyons is an example of what the Antiquities Act was intended to do — protect cultural treasures while incorporating the historic use of the land into the management of the monument so that communities support and promote the designation."
For his part, Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn (who scored 0 percent on the League of Conservation Voters' 2016 National Environmental Scorecard for House members; scorecard.lcv.org) has come out in support of the review, backing the "shift in power" from the federal to local level.
Zinke, as quoted on May 5 on the DOI's website, said, "There is no pre-determined outcome on any monument. I look forward to hearing from and engaging with local communities and stakeholders as this process continues."
Comments may be submitted through July 10 at regulations.gov by plugging "DOI-2017-0002" into the search field or by mailing: Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.
One note of hope: Huffington Post recently highlighted a research paper produced by a group of law professors out of UCLA, the University of Colorado and University of California, Berkeley, which argues that "Congress, not the president, has sole legal power to rescind or weaken protections for monuments designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906." They believe any moves by the administration will certainly lead to a battle in the courts.
"It is clear that neither the president nor Zinke have a very good understanding of the Antiquities Act or the importance of the Antiquities Act in protecting places like Canyons of the Ancients," said Heidi Mcintosh, managing attorney for the Denver office of environmental law firm Earthjustice, in The Denver Post. "I think they will get an earful from Coloradans and people from other places about how precious these places really are."