RENO, Nev. — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended scaling back the size of the Gold Butte National Monument in southern Nevada on Tuesday, drawing praise from Republican Sen. Dean Heller but sharp criticism from congressional Democrats and conservationists who vowed to fight any such move.

Zinke said he would focus the limited changes on efforts to protect local governments’ access to water on the site.

The new size and boundaries for Gold Butte aren’t available because the maps aren’t final, but an area surrounding the water district at Spring Valley will be cut out, Zinke said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. He said keeping the water district within the monument would prevent maintenance, repairs and infrastructure.

“It was inappropriately put in the monument,” Zinke said. “That’s the revision.”

He’s also said he’s recommending making it “explicit” and not “implied” that hunting and fishing are allowed.

Zinke made no mention of plans for Nevada’s Basin and Range Monument. It’s one of 11 other monuments under review that Zinke has been silent about, but they are presumed to remain intact.

Designated by President Obama under the Antiquities Act, Gold Butte protects more than 400 square miles (1,036 sq. kilometers) of desert landscapes featuring rock art, sandstone towers and wildlife habitat for the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise and other species.

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.”

Zinke said the administration is working with Nevada’s governor and 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 Heller, who added he was proud to work with Zinke “to prioritize local concerns over the opinion of Washington bureaucrats.”

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

“Today’s recommendation, along with yesterday’s by President Trump, threatens over a century of environmental protections guaranteed by the Antiquities Act,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said Tuesday.

Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said the Trump administration is “engaged in the largest rollback of national monuments protection in recent history,” adding that Zinke’s review of the monuments “has been a sham from the start.”

“I will continue to fight this reckless decision,” she said.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said Zinke has been busy “fundraising and undermining the integrity of the Interior Department.”

“He is in no position to make a sound judgment on Gold Butte,” she said.


AP Correspondent Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.