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December 18, 2017

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Zinke recommends shrinking Gold Butte National Monument

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Steve Marcus

Rock formations are shown in the Little Finland area of Gold Butte National Monument Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017.

Updated Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 | 3:59 p.m.

Gold Butte National Monument

A sign on New Gold Butte Road gives information on the Gold Butte area Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Launch slideshow »

Designated for government protection less than a year ago, Gold Butte National Monument could shrink in size significantly at the recommendation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

In a report issued Tuesday, Zinke recommends downsizing the nearly 300,000-acre monument “to ensure that the monument reservation is limited to the smallest area compatible with the protection of the objects identified and protect historic water rights.”

The report follows a monthslong review of 27 national monument designations initiated by Zinke and President Donald Trump.

Zinke’s recommendations do not specify how much land should be removed from the monument, but he calls for prioritization of “public access, infrastructure upgrades, repair, and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.”

Zinke said the administration is working with Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Nevada congressional delegation to find a solution.

"The Department of Interior's decision is welcome news for Nevada as it allows the Valley Water District to access their water rights that were lost under the previous administration," said U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who added he was proud to work with Zinke "to prioritize local concerns over the opinion of Washington bureaucrats."

But Brian Beffort, director of the Sierra Club's Toiyabe Chapter in Nevada, said the secretary's recommendation "is a direct attack on decades of work invested by local communities."

President Donald Trump signed a pair of proclamations Monday shrinking the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

"The administration is engaged in the largest rollback of national monuments protection in recent history," Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said today.

Zinke's review of the monuments "has been a sham from the start, failing to listen to local advocates and tribal communities in Nevada who care deeply about preserving the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Gold Butte," she said. "I will continue to fight this reckless decision."

Last December, former President Barack Obama set aside the large swath of land northeast of Las Vegas at the urging of former Sen. Harry Reid and local conservationists, who long sought protection for the area filled with sandstone formations and ancient petroglyphs.

Gold Butte is northeast of Las Vegas, between Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Grand Canyon—Parashant National Monument.

Zinke traveled to Nevada to visit Gold Butte in July. He canceled a meeting with advocates of the monument and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas. Titus, a longtime supporter of Gold Butte, decried Zinke’s recommendations.

“If he were interested in the will of Nevadans, Zinke would know that Gold Butte’s designation was the product of grassroots advocacy, good-faith negotiations, and the belief that our natural treasures should not be subject to the Trump Administration’s blatant disregard,” Titus said. “We must continue to fight, on the ground and in the courts, to protect Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.