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NM national monuments might remain

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a horse in the new Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah. Zinke on Monday, June 12, 2017, recommended that the new national monument in Utah be reduced in size and said Congress should step in to designate how selected areas of the 1.3 million-acre site are managed. (Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via AP, File)

WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Wednesday that he is open to keeping two new national monuments in New Mexico in their current configuration, although he has recommended scaling back Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and is considering similar changes to others.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico are both on a list of 27 monuments Zinke is reviewing for possible changes.

In response to questioning from Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., during a hearing on the Interior Department budget on Wednesday, Zinke said if state and community leaders are happy with the current configuration of the New Mexico monuments, he’ll leave them alone. But he also did not rule out changes.

“I do not want to rip a Band-aid off of a monument that is settled,” Zinke said. “I will talk to the governor and the congressional representatives and I will talk to the county commissions …and if it is settled and people are happy with it, I find no reason to recommend any changes.

“There might be a recommended change on a proclamation (designating the monument) if the community feels the proclamation is too stringent,” he added.

Zinke said he plans to visit the state in two weeks at the invitation of Sen. Martin Heinrich, but a Zinke aide told the Journal the visit’s exact dates are not yet set.

In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing Zinke to review national monuments of more than 100,000 acres designated since 1996, saying some amounted to a “massive federal land grab.” In early May, Zinke produced a list of 27 monuments for possible alteration, including the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, both designated by former President Barack Obama.

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