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Secretary Zinke's Positions On National Monuments Link Him More Closely To Pinchot Than Roosevelt


"The Secretary of the Interior (left) likes to compare himself to Teddy Roosevelt. You, sir, are no Teddy Roosevelt." -- Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife

Though he casts himself in the image of Theodore Roosevelt, by his actions Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seems closer to Gifford Pinchot, the country's first chief of the U.S. Forest Service who viewed natural resources as existing to be consumed by people.

Pinchot drew the ire of none other than John Muir in 1896 when he supported a report saying that forest reserves should be open to "the public to enter and cross the reserves ... for rights of way for roads, for rights of way for ditches, flumes and pipes and for reservoir sites, to locate mining claims."

Pinchot's view of managing the forest reserves, and later the national forests, included ensuring their economical outputs. 

"The earth and its resources belong of right to its people," he wrote in Breaking New Ground. "Without natural resources life itself is impossible. From birth to death, natural resources, transformed for human use, feed, clothe, shelter, and transport us. Upon them we depend for every material necessity, comfort, convenience, and protection in our lives. Without abundant resources prosperity is out of reach."

Roosevelt, on the other hand, told us that, "It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it."

What he said after visiting the Grand Canyon could be applied to many parts of the country.

"In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is," said President Roosevelt. "I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

Looking at these two men, Pinchot and Roosevelt, and at what Interior Secretary Zinke has accomplished in his short time in office, makes his comparison to Pinchot stronger than that to Roosevelt.

Secretary Zinke seems focused more on consumption of resources than preservation. He would allow target shooting on as many public lands as possible, permit hunters to chum for bears with donuts and greasy loaves of bread, push through energy development at a rampant pace, and toss out a National Park Service policy document that identified the agency's “predominant” duty as protecting natural and cultural resources.

That, of course, is his right, and no doubt welcomed by many.

There surely are conservation swings when administrations change in Washington, and even when Congresses change. The trick is keeping the pendulum from swinging too far in either direction. As a nation of more than 323 million, one where the "frontier" was deemed closed in 1890 by the director of the Census, great concern erupts both when resource extraction is limited or allowed too greatly; there are only so many resources and only so much unfettered land.

Secretary Zinke's preference for consumption -- some might say exploitation -- of natural resources on public lands was reflected in his recommendations to President Trump not only on the future of 27 national monuments he was asked to review for appropriateness, but also for the very future of The Antiquities Act that allows presidents to designate monuments. Of that Zinke said, "no president should use the authority under the Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional uses. ... The Executive power under the Act is not a substitute for a lack of congressional action on protective land designations."

In the document to President Trump, he mentioned allowing logging across the entirety of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine; allowing logging on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon; he referred to "several billion tons of coal and large oil deposits" in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, wording that could be inferred to indicate he wants to open that landscape to mining; he wants commercial fishing to be allowed in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument as well as Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, and; he wants hunting and fishing to be permited across the monuments.

One is left wondering whether, if Secretary Zinke sees logging as a traditional use, whether mining is as well? Are viewsheds and ecosystems worthy of protection within national monuments?

His proposals, while defended by House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop -- “Had past administrations not blatantly abused this law, this evaluation process would not have been necessary in the first place. Now that the designation process is being scrutinized, it’s even more clear that abuses occurred and real problems were left unresolved or ignored." -- drew widespread condemnation from conservation groups and some community leaders.

"... Secretary Zinke recommends shrinking the national treasure, Grand Staircase-Escalante and allowing 'traditional' uses like mining, logging and drilling in protected areas," read a release from Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, a friends groups established to support the monument President Clinton established in 1996. "It is clear that the Department of the Interior is preparing an unprecedented attack on our nation’s protected lands; never before has the United States eliminated, at such a large scale, permanent protections for national parks, wilderness areas, or national monuments."

“If the Grand Staircase-Escalante, with two decades of Congressional support, extraordinary scientific discoveries, and demonstrable economic benefits to the entire state of Utah is vulnerable to arbitrary political favors and whims,” said Nicole Croft, executive director of Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, “what hope can we have for the continued stewardship of our shared public lands?”

What shouldn't be ignored in looking across the federal lands kingdom is that these landscapes not only serve as buffers and filters for wildlife, clean air and water, and a salve for those weary of urbanization. For wildlife in particular to thrive they need connectivity across lands to ensure a healthy mix of genes. Defenders of Wildlife pointed out the threats to that in their complaints with Secretary Zinke's report:

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a unique haven for wildlife in Utah. Spanning an area the size of Delaware, the monument protects a variety of habitats, from deserts to coniferous forests. Grand Staircase is home to bears, desert bighorn sheep and mountain lions, as well as over 200 species of birds including bald eagles and peregrine falcons.

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is of great conservation value to many fish, wildlife and plants. More than 15 species of bats can be found throughout the monument and topographic features such as rock depressions collect scarce rainfall to provide habitat for numerous aquatic species. Bears Ears is world-renowned for its prized elk population and is also home to mule deer and bighorn sheep. The area’s diversity of soils and rich microenvironments provide for a great diversity of vegetation that sustains dozens of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine spans three ecoregions, which produces an amazing amount of biodiversity within the designation. The monument provides key habitat for moose, bear, threatened Canada lynx and endangered Atlantic salmon, all of which require large ranges to ensure viable populations. Seventy-eight species of birds also breed in the area.

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument in New Mexico preserves a large stretch of the Central Migratory Flyway, a key migration corridor for birds such as Canada geese, herons, sandhill cranes, hummingbirds and American avocets. It is also habitat for several bat species and raptors, the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, rare Gunnison's prairie dogs, Rocky Mountain elk, black bear, mule deer, pronghorn, red foxes, cougars, bobcats, bald eagles and many other species. The North American river otter was also recently reintroduced into the monument.

Rose Atoll Marine National Monument protects the uninhabited easternmost island of American Samoa and its surrounding waters. The reef is nesting habitat for green and hawksbill sea turtles, and is home to 97 percent of American Samoa’s seabirds. The surrounding waters contain 270 species of fish and 100 species of coral.

"Secretary Zinke is monumentally and irrationally out of step with the American public," said Defenders President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark. "Our national monuments provide critical habitat for endangered and threatened species, and are essential to thousands of species of plants, fish and animals. We understand what the Trump administration does not: national monuments protect irreplaceable parts of our nation’s conservation, cultural and historical legacies."

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