August 28, 2017

Under Obama, a gold mining firm was fine with a Mojave Desert monument. Under Trump, an about-face

Aren Hall, environmental manager of the open-pit Newcastle mining operation, surveys the eastern Mojave Desert site. (Louis Sahagun / Los Angeles Times)

by Louis Sahagun
Los Angeles Times

Less than a year ago, President Obama’s designation of a new national monument in the eastern Mojave Desert — featuring a row of jagged peaks rising above native grasslands and Joshua trees — was hailed as a compromise that served the goals of conservationists and the mining industry.

The 20,920-acre monument surrounded, but did not include, an open-pit gold mining operation at the southern end of the Castle Mountains. That allowed Newcastle Gold Ltd. of Canada to proceed with plans to excavate 10 million tons of ore from its 8,300-acre parcel through 2025.

“The company appreciates that it has been consulted throughout this process,” Newcastle said at the time. “The new land designation reflects a compromise position that meets our needs as well as respecting the interests of other stakeholders in the area.”

So, conservationists said, they were caught off guard to learn Newcastle’s position shifted after the Trump administration moved to roll back federal protections on many of the monuments created by previous administrations.

Castle Mountains National Monument was not on the list of 27 sites proposed for status modification or elimination. In a plan delivered Thursday to the White House, but not released to the public, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he has suggested the president make changes at “a handful” of those monuments.

Yet letters obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Newcastle and Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) have told Zinke the designation was made without adequate public outreach or input from the company.

The firm’s recommended solution: Reduce the size of Castle Mountains National Monument by 50%.

“The company gave its word that the deal we struck nearly a year ago was good,” David Lamfrom, director of California and desert wildlife programs for the National Parks Conservation Assn., said last week. “So we’re … furious to learn that the company and its supporters have been secretly complaining that the process was unjust.”

In an interview, Gerald Panneton, chief executive of Newcastle, confirmed that the company met with Interior Department officials in June to discuss shrinking the monument. He dismissed the company’s initial cheery assessment of Obama’s designation as “words used to calm investors.”

“There were never adequate consultations with us,” said Panneton, who joined the company after the designation was made. “That’s a problem because we need room to explore and grow.”

In an opinion piece published Wednesday in the Desert Dispatch newspaper, Cook accused Obama of creating the Castle Mountains monument under the Antiquities Act “without a public meeting or public comment” as part of a “backroom deal” with conservationists. He also said Trump has specifically asked Zinke to modify the monument.

Alex Hinson, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior, declined to comment.

The area where the monument is located, about 100 miles south of Las Vegas, has a long history of battles pitting preservationists against mining, grazing and recreational interests.

In the late 1980s, plans to use a controversial gold-mining technology came under attack by environmentalists, who claimed it would dry up a perennial spring and attract wildlife to cyanide-laced water.

In 1994, the mineral-rich portion of land was carved out of the adjacent Mojave National Preserve at the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who recognized the economic value of its gold mining operations. The then-Viceroy Mine produced more than 1 million ounces of gold by the time its main pits — dubbed Leslie Ann, Oro Bell and Jumbo — were shuttered in 2001 due to low gold prices.

Standing one recent day at the edge of a mining pit dug into the mountains, Newcastle environmental manager Aren Hall smiled and said, “Impressive, isn’t it?”

Panneton said Newcastle aims to resume production next year.

“We’re more than happy to sit down with environmental groups and work out our differences,” he said. “For example, the mine could help subsidize the monument and Mojave National Preserve once it’s up and running and making a profit.”

Lamfrom, however, has his doubts.

“The company’s word is not as good as gold,” he said.

August 24, 2017

Review of monuments’ designation justified

Rep. Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley,
represents the High Desert in
the House of Representatives.

By Rep. Paul Cook
Desert Dispatch

As you might recall, former President Obama unilaterally designated two monuments in our area despite significant local opposition, doing so through misuse of the Antiquities Act. The creation of a Mojave Trails monument has been debated for some time, and a local consensus was reached on its boundary. Still, after colluding with special interest groups and performing a single fly-over in an airplane, Obama created a much larger monument and did so without a public meeting or public comment. He created another monument, Castle Mountains, out of thin air by that same abusive process.

You might also have heard attack ads against me and President Trump, implying that we seek to destroy these monuments. (They neglect to mention that I support fully a third monument, Sand to Snow.) If you’re skeptical of their message, you should be. It’s a complete lie on multiple levels. My position on Mojave Trails has never changed: The President should abide by the bipartisan boundaries established in my desert bill and Senator Feinstein’s desert bill. My position on Castle Mountains has never changed: no monument should be created without public input.

Anyone or any entity supporting Obama’s abuse of the Antiquities Act is supporting the dirty closed-door politics that Washington, D.C. has given us for too long. We shouldn’t accept the absurd notion that a single politician should determine the fate of your livelihood, community, and region without your input — that somehow he knows best. Furthermore, opposing Obama’s abuse of the Antiquities Act does not mean opposition to protecting public lands.

I support smart conservation, with monuments created through a thorough public vetting process. That’s why I introduced desert legislation in 2015 (HR 3668) and again in 2017 (HR 857), because we deserve a sensible approach to conservation that includes input from Congress and the public. While drafting these bills, I’ve worked with countless stakeholders — including the aforementioned environmental groups and other environmental groups with better integrity — to ensure that land protections meet the demands of local economies, recreationalists, and conservationists. This resulted in significant support locally.

The county of Inyo and cities of Apple Valley, Banning, Barstow, Big Bear Lake, Hesperia, Twentynine Palms, and Yucca Valley endorsed my proposal because it protected public access to Mojave Trails. I even mailed a survey to tens of thousands of households in my district to see if a monument or a less restrictive designation was preferred for Mojave Trails. A plurality of the 2,500 survey responses supported a less restrictive designation (47% to 44%).

Instead of protecting the 965,000 acres of Mojave Trails as addressed in Feinstein’s legislation and my own, Obama drew a staggering 1.6 million-acre boundary. To make matters worse, Obama created the Castle Mountains National Monument to stop a mining project that environmental extremists have long despised. In fact, the actual Castle Mountains — an interesting topographical feature — could have been protected without drawing the boundary so large as to prevent the mining operation. In both cases, Obama used the Antiquities Act to circumvent public scrutiny.

That’s why President Trump asked Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to issue recommendations on modifying Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains national monuments. It’s ironic that these extreme environmental groups and their Congressional advocates claim there was a “backroom” deal between Trump and mining companies in determining the fate of these monuments — ironic because a backroom deal occurred between these environmental groups and Obama in creating the monuments. I believe a Freedom of Information Act request would prove my statement true, because some members of these same groups insinuated such collusion in speaking to my staff. Moreover, Zinke’s review allowed for public comment; Obama’s actions did not.

No one side should have free reign in the discussion of public land use, but we haven’t seen a balanced approach in decades. Had Obama and his special-interest supporters chosen good public process in determining these monuments, the Trump administration would not be reviewing their misdeeds. Obama threw 553.5 million acres of public land into national monuments, nearly twice as much as all previous presidents combined. We should never assume one person in government, given that much power, has acted properly in every case. No presidential action is above review.

Burning Man: Giant jellyfish, pulsating heart and rebuilt Boeing 747 set to dazzle at Nevada desert festival

Work by Ken Feldman, Vasily Klyukin and Peter Hazel among installations on display at leading US contemporary arts extravaganza

One of the largest art installations at Burning Man 2017 will be a recreated Boeing 747 which has been moved in giant pieces from the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Oliver Poole
The Independent

The Burning Man festival starts this Sunday and this year’s installations are set to be some of the most outrageous ever with a giant jellyfish, a heart that pulsates in time with the viewer’s heartbeat and a life-size recreation of a Boeing 747 airplane among those to be displayed.

The festival, which draws almost 70,000 people each year to the Nevada desert, distributed £1 million in art grants this year to ensure many new participants will get the chance to join established artists with work on display.

Perhaps the most spectacular, and certainly one of the largest, will be the recreated Boeing 747, which has been moved in giant pieces from the Mojave Air and Space Port.

More than 500 volunteers, including engineers from Boeing and Nasa, have worked since 2015 to not only disassemble the plane, but also add staircases, paintings and other details including day-glo lights to its outsides.

“It started off as a joke when I saw a bike made out of airplane parts at Burning Man and I said, 'Wouldn’t it be great if we made an art form out of a plane?'” said Ken Feldman, the project manager who organised the purchase of the decommissioned 1985 Varig 747.

Another art piece at the festival, now in its 31st year, is the Pulsating Heart by established Russian artist Vasily Klyukin.

For his new interactive installation called the Pulsating Heart, the viewer wears a special bracelet that reads the their pulse. The sculpture then synchronises with the bracelet and starts to light up in time with the heartbeat.

If the bracelet is worn by two people, the sculpture will beat faster and more rapidly.

“I am sure that it will become a notable object at the festival,” Mr Klyukin said, adding that after the festival the work will move to the La Collection Air museum in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The 40-foot high, 60-foot long jellyfish that will also be among the hundreds of art works on display has been created by Nevada artist Peter Hazel. Made out of recycled glass, the work will consist of 1,600 small jellyfish joined together to make the giant's statue.

The event ends every year with the symbolic burning of a wooden man sculpture and of many of the art pieces that had been specially created and displayed on the festival.

August 23, 2017

5 California National Monuments Are Among 27 Up For Axing

Snow on the Providence Mountains can happen a few times every winter, Mojave National Preserve, Mojave Desert of San Bernardino County, California. (COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

Associated Press

Five California national monument areas may be axed or downsized by the Trump Administration on Thursday. They are among 27 national monuments established or expanded by presidents since 1996 that Trump in an executive order asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review. Here's a quick look at the state's areas that could lose some or all of their protected status.

Mojave Trails National Monument

This huge swath of Mojave Desert north of Joshua Tree National Park is by far the largest of California's six national monuments up for elimination, and also the most recently designated. President Barack Obama gave the status to 1.6 million acres of desert land in February, 2016. it contains ancient lava flows, spectacular sand dunes, ancient Native American trading routes and World War II-era training camps. It also contains the largest remaining undeveloped stretch of historic Route 66.

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

The 346,000-acre mountain area is some of the nation's most visited wilderness. More than 15 million people live within a 90-minute drive of the mountains northeast of Los Angeles. It was designated by Obama in person in October, 2014 and came in a wave of similar moves by the president, who would use national-monument status to protect millions of acres of public lands around the country in his last years in office. The move brought criticism from California Congressmen and others who said the president was overstepping his authority.

Giant Sequoia National Monument

President Bill Clinton created this national monument in 2000, setting aside 328,000 acres of land in Tulare County where the giant sequoia grows naturally. The move added to the areas already safeguarded in Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks. The decision was praised by environmentalists but scorned by loggers. In announcing his decision, Clinton marveled at the resilience of a partially charred tree that had been struck by lightning decades ago. "Look how deep the burn goes," he said. "These giant sequoias clearly are the work of the ages. They grow taller than the Statue of Liberty, broader than a bus."

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument

This area 50 miles west of Sacramento was given national monument status by Obama just over two years ago. The monument, consisting of 330,000 acres of public lands, extends from Berryessa Peak and other areas in Napa, Yolo, and Solano counties through Lake, Colusa, and Glenn counties to the eastern boundary of the Yuki Wilderness in Mendocino County. It is home to threatened and endangered plant and wildlife species including northern spotted owls.

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Far less visited is this area in San Luis Obispo County, which is known for its remoteness and silence. The national monument created by Clinton in 2001 consists of 204,000 acres of grasslands between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield. It includes Painted Rock, a horseshoe-shaped sandstone monolith with red ocher etchings of horned figures and geometric shapes drawn by American Indians.

Tommy Hough, president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, said that if this protected land is removed, other monuments could be targeted.

“The precedent that could be set here is terrible, and it doesn’t just potentially affect Cabrillo National Monument,” Hough said. “These are some of the most special places in the U.S., these have been identified in some cases decades ago, to be preserved as is.”

August 18, 2017

Lawmaker wants to shrink Castle Mountains monument to make more room for a gold mine

Castle Mountains National Monument surrounds the Castle Mountain gold mine which a Canadian company is looking to reopen. (Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

Ian James
The Desert Sun

In May, when the Trump administration announced its list of national monuments that would fall under an unprecedented nationwide review, California’s Castle Mountains National Monument wasn’t among them.

But if Rep. Paul Cook has his way, President Donald Trump will reexamine this newly created monument in the Mojave Desert and carve out more space for a gold mine.

Castle Mountains was the smallest of three monuments that President Barack Obama established last year across the California desert. The 21,000-acre monument includes jagged peaks, Joshua trees and grasslands in the desert between Mojave National Preserve and the Nevada state line.

The monument also surrounds the Castle Mountain gold mine, which the Canadian company NewCastle Gold is looking to reopen more than a decade after it was shut down due to low gold prices.

The company has recently urged the Trump administration to reduce the size of the monument to free up more land around the mine – and Cook seconded that request in a June 8 letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“Although this is the smallest of the four monuments in my district, it is also the most problematic,” Cook said in the letter. “This monument was created without any local outreach or input. It was designated for one purpose: to prevent the reopening of the Castle Mountain Mine.”

Obama’s decision to designate new monuments using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act has drawn criticism from Cook and other Republicans. By the time he left office, Obama had created or expanded 34 monuments, more than any other president.

Trump launched the review of national monuments in April, accusing Obama of an "egregious abuse use of power."

In his executive order, Trump instructed Zinke to review any national monument of at least 100,000 acres created since 1996. The order included a loophole allowing for smaller monuments in cases where Zinke determines that a designation “was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”

But when the Trump administration came out with its list of 27 land and marine monuments that would be reexamined, Castle Mountains appeared to be off the hook. The only monument on the list below the 100,000-acre threshold was Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine.

Zinke is due to announce his recommendations by Aug. 24 for six national monuments in California, including Mojave Trails, Giant Sequoia, Carrizo Plain, San Gabriel Mountains and Berryessa Snow Mountain. He announced this week that the administration won’t shrink or eliminate Sand to Snow National Monument.

It’s not clear whether or how Zinke might take up Cook’s suggestion to include Castle Mountains in the review.

In his letter, Cook pointed out that when Mojave National Preserve was created in 1994 under legislation introduced by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Castle Mountains area was excluded to allow mining to continue.

He said there were later proposals in Congress to add parts of the area that weren’t needed for mining to the Mojave National Preserve, but never to establish Castle Mountains as its own monument. Cook said the first time the proposal was announced came just months before Obama designated the monument.

Cook said “there was no real public outreach or coordination” in that process. A single public meeting was held on the proposal in October 2015, he said, and it occurred outside San Bernardino County, more than 200 miles away from the Castle Mountains.

Cook told Zinke that even though the national monument is smaller than 100,000 acres, it’s “worthy of the utmost scrutiny by your department.”

Cook’s suggestions came to light this month after The Wilderness Society, a nonprofit conservation group, obtained his letter through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

With his letter, Cook included a map showing his proposed changes to the monument, which would open up more areas around the mine. He also included letters to Zinke from NewCastle Gold and San Bernardino County.

Robert Lovingood, chair of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, said in his letter to Zinke that if he decides to review Castle Mountains, the county wants to see the government address “issues of access through the monument to the mine and access to water needed to service the mine” and accommodate future expansion.

Kerry Shapiro, a lawyer representing NewCastle Gold, requested in a June 1 letter to Zinke that the national monument be reduced by roughly 50 percent and that the government amend a proclamation to allow the company “the flexibility it needs to explore for and develop new mining claims, water resources” and other facilities.

The company said in the letter that Castle Mountains is much larger than it needs to be to protect wildlife, habitats and natural springs, and that the national monument “could be cut in half and still protect those resources most deserving of long-term conservation.”

If the monument remains unchanged, the company said that would “constrain or end” the mining project.

The company's concerns contrast with the stance it took publicly when the monument was created in February 2016. At the time, NewCastle Gold said in a press release that the company was pleased its claim and private lands weren’t affected, that some adjacent federal lands weren’t included and that Obama’s proclamation said its existing rights would be maintained.

David Adamson, who was then NewCastle’s CEO, said in the statement that the federal land not included in the monument “extends well beyond our resource limits and claim boundaries and includes ample land for potential project development.”

Adamson also said NewCastle appreciated “that it has been consulted throughout this process and that the new land designation reflects a compromise position that meets our needs as well as respecting the interests of other stakeholders and the public in the area.”

Adamson left the company last year. The current president and CEO is Gerald Panneton, who has said that the company is looking to get the mine operating again soon and that he sees great potential for the operation to get bigger.

NewCastle said in a statement this month that it drilled a second well as part of a study to identify additional water sources. The company said the well was drilled to a depth of nearly 1,600 feet and reached the water table 570 feet underground. NewCastle said it also has three other wells at the site.

In addition to suggesting that Trump shrink Castle Mountains, Cook has also called for redrawing the boundaries of Mojave Trails National Monument to remove a vast southern portion that connects the monument to Joshua Tree National Park.

Conservation groups criticized Cook’s efforts to eliminate parts of the monuments.

Danielle Segura, executive director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust, said the proposed changes to Castle Mountains and Mojave Trails are “a direct affront to the will of our community.” She said in a statement that Cook’s recommendations “are not in the best interest of the diverse desert communities who have fought for, and benefit from, these public lands.”

David Lamfrom, director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s California desert program, said he was taken aback by Cook’s requests.

“To ask for Castle Mountains to be put under review is really surprising because an agreement was hammered out,” Lamfrom said. “The public has weighed in and said they want these places to be protected.”

Segura and Lamfrom wrote to Zinke last month arguing there’s no need to put Castle Mountains under review. They said the national monument doesn’t inhibit current or future mining, and doesn’t put jobs or government revenues in jeopardy.

Segura and Lamfrom signed the letter together with representatives of two other groups – the California Wilderness Coalition and the Center for Biological Diversity. They said the monument’s creation wasn’t a last-minute deal but rather a “diligent effort spanning several years” and involving the company.

“Throughout this process, especially leading up to the monument designation, NewCastle Gold was engaged, consulted and apprised,” they said in the letter.

Obama established the national monuments in the California desert after separate monument bills introduced by Feinstein and Cook failed in Congress.

Lamfrom said he knows Cook is someone who cares about public lands, but “that letter really seems to be taking actions that side with furthering the interests of industrial projects and threats to the California desert.”

Cook was unavailable for an interview and responded to questions from The Desert Sun by email. He said NewCastle Gold has made clear its opposition to the monument’s current boundaries.

“The primary concern of the mine operators is that the Castle Mountains National Monument eliminates the buffer zone that was purposely created between the project area and the Mojave National Preserve in Sen. Feinstein’s 1994 Desert Protection Act,” Cook said. “Any inability to access the buffer zone for ancillary facilities and future operational expansion would render the project unviable.”

Cook said when the mine is fully operating, it’s expected to generate more than 200 jobs and over $7 million in revenue for the county and state – which the county sorely needs to pay for the work of restoring lands that have been mined across the desert.

His complaints about the monument go beyond his concerns about the mine needing more space.

When the monument was created, land that previously fell under the Bureau of Land Management’s jurisdiction was handed over to the National Park Service to manage.

The new national monument immediately banned hunting, Cook said in his letter, despite the fact that hunting – for animals such as bobcats and mule deer – is allowed nearby in the Mojave National Preserve and had been permitted in the Castle Mountain area before the monument was created.

He asked Zinke to assign the monument’s lands back to the Bureau of Land Management and to allow hunting again.

Cook opposed Obama’s designation of the monument from the beginning. He said the monument never appeared in any legislation and “directly violates the legislative intent” of the 1994 law, which established the zone around the mine.

“We can discuss whether portions of the buffer zone should be incorporated into the Mojave National Preserve, but that discussion must be facilitated through legislation and public outreach, not behind closed doors, such as it did during the Obama administration,” Cook said.

Cook said he’s convinced that Castle Mountains, even though it’s smaller than the 100,000-acre threshold, fits with Trump’s order to reevaluate monuments that were created “without adequate public outreach and coordination” with stakeholders.

“It clearly qualifies for review,” Cook said.

Zinke and Trump could say any day now whether they agree with him.

August 16, 2017

One California desert national monument is safe — but another is still in jeopardy

Sand to Snow National Monument includes the Devil's Playground area just west of Highway 62, which is populated by many species of cacti. (Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

Sammy Roth
The Desert Sun

The Trump administration won't shrink or eliminate Sand to Snow National Monument near Palm Springs, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Wednesday — but elsewhere in the California desert, Mojave Trails National Monument may still be on the chopping block.

Zinke has been reviewing 22 national monuments created or expanded by presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, with plans to submit final recommendations to President Donald Trump by next week. Sand to Snow is the sixth monument for which Zinke has said he'll recommend no changes, following Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, Hanford Reach in Washington and Upper Missouri River Banks in Zinke's home state of Montana.

"The land of Sand to Snow National Monument is some of the most diverse terrain in the West, and the monument is home to incredible geographic, biologic and archaeological history of our nation," Zinke said in a statement.

President Obama created Sand to Snow National Monument using his authority under the Antiquities Act in early 2016, protecting 154,000 acres that stretch from the desert floor near Palm Springs to the peak of Mount San Gorgonio. The monument helps link San Bernardino National Forest, the San Jacinto Mountains and Joshua Tree National Park, connecting a diverse array of ecosystems and protecting a wildlife corridor traversed by mountain lions, bighorn sheep and desert tortoises, among other species.

Obama designated two other monuments in the California desert at the same time as Sand to Snow: the 1.6-million-acre Mojave Trails monument, which surrounds historic Route 66 between Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park, and Castle Mountains National Monument, which fills in a 21,000-acre gap in the preserve.

Obama established the three monuments to protect those places from mining, solar and wind farms and others forms of development, after legislative efforts in Congress failed.

Monument bills introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, never reached a vote. Neither did legislation written by GOP Rep. Paul Cook, which would have created the Sand to Snow monument and offered a lesser level of protection to Mojave Trails.

Both monuments were swept up by Trump's April 2017 executive order, which called for Zinke to make recommendations to Trump on 22 land-based monuments by August 24. But Sand to Snow has been relatively non-controversial, even among opponents of Obama's designation. In a letter to Zinke last month, 17 House Republicans — including Cook, who represents the High Desert — recommended no changes to Sand to Snow.

High Desert residents cheered Zinke's decision not to alter the national monument.

Real estate agent Karen Lowe, who serves as secretary of the Morongo Valley Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses and residents spent nearly a decade lobbying for Sand to Snow, which encircles Morongo Valley. Local leaders expect the monument to boost tourism as the National Park Service adds infrastructure and promotes the site.

"When we finally got the monument, we were so excited. And now to find out that it's going to remain unchanged — it's just great news for Morongo Valley," Lowe said.

April Sall lives in the tiny High Desert community of Pioneertown and is a member of the board of directors of the Wildlands Conservancy, a conservation group. She called Zinke's decision not to reduce Sand to Snow National Monument a "good start," but said Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails didn't need to be reviewed in the first place.

"Both the desert monuments were very strongly vetted, and we had a real groundswell of support. And it was a grassroots campaign that really started with the community members wanting to protect that landscape from industrial energy development," Sall said. "People were stoked that their voice mattered and they got to protect this place, so the fact that it went under review, with no justified reason...was a bit of a dark shadow."

Mojave Trails National Monument may have a different fate.

The 17 House Republicans who wrote to Zinke, including Cook and two other Californians, urged him to shrink Mojave Trails. In their letter, they said Obama's Mojave Trails designation could prevent future expansion of some mining operations, although they acknowledged it doesn't affect existing mining rights within the monument.

Mojave Trails supporters are worried changes to the monument's boundaries could clear the way for Cadiz Inc.'s controversial plan to pump groundwater from a Mojave Desert aquifer and sell it to Southern California cities. Cadiz's land is surrounded by the monument. Conservation groups say the project would remove more groundwater from the underground aquifer than nature puts back in, harming plants and animals in the monument and in nearby Mojave National Preserve — a claim the company disputes.

It's not clear Trump has the legal authority to eliminate monuments established by previous presidents, but several presidents have reduced the size of monuments. In their letter to Zinke, the 17 congressional Republicans called for Trump to eliminate nine monuments and shrink 14 others, arguing that previous presidents have overstepped their authority by using the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect huge swaths of federal land.

"No one person should be able to unilaterally lock up millions of acres of public land from multiple-use with the stroke of a pen. Local stakeholders deserve to have a voice on public land-use decisions that impact their livelihoods," they wrote to Zinke.

Critics, though, say Trump's monument review is designed to benefit oil and gas, mining, timber and other industries that hope to extract more resources from public lands. If Trump tries to revoke any monument protections, conservation groups are likely to sue.

Responding to Zinke's announcement Wednesday that he won't recommend changes to Sand to Snow, Aaron Weiss — a spokesperson for the Center for Western Priorities, a Denver-based conservation advocacy group — said Zinke's latest decision "makes it clear he is not using any legitimate criteria to evaluate our national monuments."

"This charade has gone on long enough," Weiss said in a statement. "The secretary himself admits Sand to Snow is 'home to [the] incredible geographic, biologic, and archaeological history of our nation,' which is true of every single monument he's threatening. Ryan Zinke needs to stop playing reality show games with our public lands."