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Traveler's View: Interior Secretary Zinke Should Measure More Than Just Local Support When Weighing Bears Ears And Other National Monuments


How will Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke measure "broad support" when he considers calls to rescind the designation of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah?/Mark Toso via Patagonia

A common, and surprising, thread runs through Grand Canyon, Olympic and Yellowstone national parks, as well as through Canyonlands, Grand Teton, and Pinnacles national parks. They all faced measures of local opposition when talk arose about designating them.

That's a salient point to keep in mind when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke looks at Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, and perhaps even Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, and says that presidents wielding the Antiquities Act should seek "broad support" from localities before designating national monuments.

"Some of the monuments created in the last administration were popular. They had grassroots support. They had broad support at the state level," Secretary Zinke told Montana media the other day. "And other monuments, especially those that were created late ... in (the Obama) administration, they do they smell of political agenda rather than gaining consensus. And they’ve become viewed in many parts, especially in Utah, as, once again, breaching this bond of trust. And so my task as a secretary is to review all actions that were taken to make sure that we are an advocate for the local voice and advocate for the state and be seen as partners rather than adversaries."

Those well-versed in the history of the National Park System no doubt can recall that Jackson Hole National Monument was never popular with the locals. In 1950, when the monument was combined with Grand Teton National Park, which at the time encompassed only the majestic peaks of the Teton Range and some lakes, the move so outraged and infuriated Wyoming politicians that they had the Antiquities Act amended to preclude its future use in the Cowboy State without state approval.

It might be hard to believe today, but efforts to establish Grand Canyon as a national park back in the 1880s failed because of local opposition.

“A fiendish and diabolical scheme... the fate of Arizona depends exclusively upon the development of her mineral resources.” -- The Williams Sun, 1897

President Theodore Roosevelt, who Secretary Zinke views as a model of conservatism, made an incredibly great decision in 1908 when he, against Congressional opposition, established Grand Canyon National Monument, which was redesignated as a national park in 1919. It might be harder to believe, but there was even local opposition to Yellowstone National Park in 1872 when it became the world's very first national park.

We regard the passage of the act as a great blow struck at the prosperity of the towns of Bozeman and Virginia City," wrote the Helena Gazette that year.

At one point local supporters of Pinnacles National Monument, established in 1908, eight years before the National Park Service came to be, "had to be convinced, contrary to their initial opinion, that Pinnacles merited inclusion within the national park system, and for several years they considered transferring the monument to the state park system."

There are other examples of opposition to creation of such places as Olympic National Park and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Such examples can't help but raise questions of whether Secretary Zinke will work to undo President Obama's work in setting aside the Bears Ears and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, just to name two of the monuments the 44th president established.

The new Interior secretary likely would face pushback from Maine's congressional delegation to undo Katahdin Woods and Waters (if, as Traveler pointed out last month, he somehow could legally unravel the land transfer from Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.), as three of the four members of the delegation support its existence.

"Rather than reignite controversy in a region that is beginning to heal and move on, I hope we can allow the monument to continue to serve as one important part of a multifaceted economic revitalization strategy which is already underway,” U.S. Sen. Angus King told The Associated Press.

Of course, in the matter of Bears Ears, how do you define "broad support"? This 1.35-million-acre rugged redrock landscape is rich in Native American history and lore and carried support for monument designation from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, a group that includes leaders from the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian tribes. They, in turn, have the support of 25 other tribes.

Then, too, there was polling earlier this year in seven Western states indicating that a strong majority of voters believed national monument designations should not be rescinded.

Much of the landscape within the Bears Ears National Monument is considered sacred by Native American tribes, and also is viewed as a recreational mecca/Patagonia

On Tuesday the gear manufacturer Patagonia, a fierce supporter of Bears Ears and vocal opponent of Utah's political stance against public lands, launched the latest chapter of its campaign in support of the monument.

In This is Bears Ears National Monument, powered by Google’s 360 technology, Patagonia’s ten short films create an experience of total immersion through the storytelling of Native American tribal leaders and outdoor athletes. ... Bears Ears National Monument is one of many areas under threat in our country and we hope this film experience ignites a nationwide conversation about the importance of keeping public lands in public hands.

“Bears Ears National Monument is a sacred home for Native Americans, a world-class location for rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, and a mecca for archaeologists. But it is also a target for looters, mining and energy companies and elected officials who want to privatize and develop the nation’s public lands,” said Rose Marcario, Patagonia’s chief executive officer. “It is our hope that this film will help to defend this national monument by bringing it to life and spurring action to protect this American treasure.”

Secretary Zinke in the weeks and months ahead will have ample opportunity to put actions to his words that he's "a Teddy Roosevelt Republican." We'll be watching.

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Nice Op-Ed.

Excellent article, Kurt.

But the GOP has already proved many times that they are not at all interested in hearing from ordinary people.

Besides, those old petroglyphs make really GREAT targets for rifle practice.

Another example of "local opposition" was the original Yosemite National Park, established October 1, 1890. In February 1905, under the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, Congress reduced Yosemite by 542 square miles, "compensating" by adding 112 square miles to the north. The addition was entirely mountainous terrain; everything removed was forests and lands thought to be minerally rich. And don't forget TR's support for San Francisco's request to dam Hetch Hetchy, that approved by a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson to be specific, in December 1913. It was also Wilson again in 1915 that reduced Mount Olympus National Monument by half, all of the reduction rich in forests locals wanted to exploit.

Look, good people. We're AMERICANS, and Americans save nothing they believe they can "use." "Nothing dollarable is safe, however guarded," John Muir noted. And that applies to us ALL.

Does anyone seriously believe Obama, Jewell, Salazar, et al. were environmental saints? News flash. The Obamas just received a reported $60 million to write their memoirs. Lee talks about "ordinary people." In politics, there is no such thing. If you want to be ordinary, i.e., above taking money (I've tried it three times), you will lose.

If it's worthless, effetively sparse in resources, Bears Ears will survive. If it has significant oil and/or minerals, it won't, nor would it have survived under Hillary Clinton, either. For the most part, all of our national park boundaries are artifacts--entirely political from the start. If the parks had been laid out ecologically, they would have been significantly larger, including the parks in Alaska, where native corporations were established to exploit the resources.

Muir remains forever right. It has nothing to do with who is president. Rather, it has to do with the fact that Americans love their prosperity. When the farms ran out back East, people headed West. They didn't "conserve" until they had to, nor are Americans conserving now. Here in Seattle, where are you likely to see the first bumper sticker "Warren in 2020?" On the bumper of a Tahoe, Escalade, Tundra, or Suburban, you know, right next to the NPCA sticker. After all, we wouldn't want to be run over by another soccer mom, would we? That's the kind of thinking that squeezes the national parks--better said, the world. If only protecting the parks were as easy as whom we elect to office.

Al, help me out here. I usually forget the exact logical fallacies listed items, although I tend to recognize them when I encounter them. Like listing two totally disparate items ["Obama is not an envirronmental saint" along with "He will receive a large advance on his memoir"], as if there is a causational or other relationship between the two items.


Simple question - please keeo your response to less than five paragraphs.


Thanks for this important history. Most people assume that the creation of our national parks happened with no controversy and with overwhelming public support, including from local residents. They need to know that almost all national parks were initially opposed by entrenched interests, and took years of hard work to become a reality.

RESTORE's original Maine Woods National Park & Preserve proposal, and the subsequent Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, both faced vehement opposition from vested interests in northern Maine. This, despite the fact that, as with Bears Ears National Monument, opinion polls showed that a healthy majority of the state's citizens supported a national park in the Maine Woods. A small number of aggressive opponents were able to create enough static that they gave the impression of broad opposition. Now that the new national monument is a reality, it is clear that most Mainers like it and want to keep and enjoy it.

Anti-national park activists try to kill new park and monument campaigns before they can gain critical momentum. Having failed to stop Katahdin Woods and Waters and Bears Ears, opponents are desperate to reverse them as soon as possible. They know that once a park or monument is created, people come to love and vigorously defend it.

We already see this happening with Katahdin Woods and Waters and Bears Ears. They have strong public support and the opponents are a small minority that is losing steam. Yes, some influential polititians are leading the anti-monument charge, but Congress and the president have a lot more pressing concerns to deal with right now. So, I think both of these new monuments will survive and thrive.

I hope you're right, Michael.  But I also fear we may be a single Tweet away from disasters of all kinds.  American politics has gone from just plain crazy to outright insane.


No, Rick. I believe my post is clear. How is that for keeping it short? In fact, I have decided to bow out of The Traveler for a while. I've too much else on my plate. It's all yours, Rick.

OK, Al. I hope you find your peace.

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