Zinke made the recommendation as part of an interim report to President Donald Trump on the scenic swath of southern Utah with red rock plateaus, cliffs and canyons on land considered sacred to tribes.
Trump signed an executive order in April directing Zinke to review the designation of dozens of national monuments on federal lands, calling the protection efforts “a massive federal land grab” by previous administrations.
Trump and other Republicans have singled out former President Barack Obama’s designation of Bears Ears, calling it an unnecessary layer of federal control that hurts local economies by closing the area to new energy development. They also say it isn’t the best way to protect the land.
Zinke toured Bears Ears last month on foot, horseback and helicopter and met with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other state leaders. Herbert and other Utah Republicans oppose Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument.
Zinke, a former Republican congressman from Montana, said he wants to make sure Native American culture is preserved and said Congress should approve legislation granting tribes legal authority to “co-manage” some of the Bears Ears site.
“I have enormous respect for tribes,” Zinke said, adding that he supports Native American efforts to restore “sovereignty, respect and self-determination.”
Instead of the monument designation, which prevents a range of development, Zinke said some of the sprawling, 1.3 million acre site should be designated for conservation or recreation. He called on Congress to approve a land-management bill for Bears Ears and other federal lands.
The Republican-controlled Congress has failed to approve significant public lands bills in recent years, but Zinke said that was because of veto threats by Obama.
He summed up his optimism in two words: “President Trump.”