In August I wrote about our former congressman and now Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke. At the time he was positioning himself for the Interior job he promoted himself as modern day Teddy Roosevelt and a protector of our public lands.
It was a dubious claim, and after six months on the job those claims are proving to be what many us feared: a pile of lies.
Recently, the Washington Post obtained a copy of Zinke’s secret recommendations to the President on the status of national monuments created in the last 20 years. This is not a document that gives us reason to regard Zinke as a Teddy Roosevelt wannabe.
Zinke’s recommendations call for huge reductions in the Bear’s Ear National Monument, an area in southeastern Utah that’s rich in Native American cultural artifacts. The report recommends reducing the 1.35 million acre monument to just 120,000 acres.
Zinke also recommends reductions in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments in New Mexico, Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, and monument areas in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
According to many analysts, Zinke’s report is full of lies and misrepresentations. Outside magazine starts off with a quote from the report stating, “There is no doubt that President Trump has the authority to review and consider recommendations to modify or add a monument.”
Outside responds, “There is actually a ton of doubt. It’s widely accepted that the Antiquities Act grants a President the authority to create monuments but the law doesn’t actually contain language authorizing a president to modify an existing monument’s borders, let alone abolish it altogether.”
Zinke’s report suggests that monuments created since 1996 were “made without adequate public consultation.” Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told High Country News of more than 1,000 meetings with local people and interest groups over a four-year period before Bears Ear was created.
The report asserts that road closures in the Rio Grande del Norte Monument in New Mexico have caused ranchers to stop grazing there. New Mexico’s senator Martin Heinrich calls that a factual error. He also points out that the report claims that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peak Monument creates problems for Border Patrol enforcement, even though the monument area is five miles away from the Mexican border.
Field & Stream magazine’s website reports that both New Mexico’s senators, Heinrich and Tom Udall issued a joint statement accusing Zinke of ignoring overwhelming support of New Mexico citizens for the monuments in their state, adding that Zinke declined to attend a town meeting in support of Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks and has never set foot in Rio Grande del Norte.
In a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Heinrich questioned John Ruhs, Acting Deputy Director of Operations at the Bureau of Land Management, about false claims about road closures, ranching difficulties, border operations, and protection of hunting and fishing rights.
Ruhs confirmed that BLM staff members were not asked to fact-check Zinke’s report. He confirmed that BLM staff did provide data and answered questions but did not participate in drafting the report.
One of the most vocal critics of the monument review process is Land Tawney, executive director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. In Field & Stream’s report, Tawney says, “If these recommendations reflect the Interior Department’s suggested course of action for Congress and President Trump, our public lands, wildlife and outdoor traditions could be at risk. Referring to Zinke’s claim to be in the mold of Roosevelt, Tawney asks, ”What would Theodore Roosevelt do?”
I give due credit that Zinke’s report does recommend National Monument status for the Badger-Two Medicine area, an area tucked in next to Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
In any event, it’s pretty clear that if the President attempts to drastically reduce National Monuments as recommended there will be a long series of court fights that would likely determine the final outcome.