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Interior Secretary Vigorously Defends Actions On National Monuments


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke vigorously defended President Trump's move to reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante (pictured) national monuments in Utah/BLM

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday vigorously defended the Trump administration's move to reduce by 2 million acres the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments in Utah, saying previous presidents greatly misused their authority under The Antiquities Act. The secretary, in response to a reporter's question, also called Patagonia officials liars for their claim that President Trump "stole your land."

The secretary called the conference call with reporters to discuss the final version of his recommendations to President Trump on the validity of 27 national monuments created by Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama, and opened with a strong defense of the president's move Monday to reduce the size of 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante and 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears by a combined 2 million acres.

After providing an overview of The Antiquities Act to stress that federal lands protected must contain objects of scientific, cultural, or archaeological interest and be the smallest area possible to protect those objects, he maintained that Presidents Clinton, who established Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996, and Obama, who designated Bears Ears a year ago, failed to follow those guidelines.

"In the case of Bears Ears and Staircase-Escalante, we looked at it, and bear in mind, Bears Ears was 1.5. million acres (actually, 1.3 million) and within Bears Ears was a national forest, wilderness study area, and an earlier monument (Natural Bridges) which Teddy Roosevelt designated in the turn of the 19th century," said Secretary Zinke. "Even after the (president's) revision, after identified objects, and there are objects within Bears Ears, there are primarily objects of cultural significance to the local tribes. Those objects were identified in concert with the state natural resources experts. But the objects could be identified, they could be segregated, and the revised boundaries still are larger than Bryce Canyon and Zion combined. 

"That's still 350 square miles. In the case of Staircase-Escalante, the revised boundaries are 1,500 square miles, which is 8 million acres," said Secretary Zinke.

The secretary's math on Grand Staircase-Escalante, however, was off by more than 7 million acres, as 1,500 square miles is equal to 960,000 acres. As designated by President Clinton, Grand Staircase-Escalante covers 1.9 million acres. 

"The Interior's position is public lands are for public use, and not special interests," said Secretary Zinke. "The Antiquities Act was designed to protect rather than prevent. And no president under the authority of The Antiquities Act has the authority to arbitrarily remove the public from their lands, reduce public access, reduce hunting and fishing, and reduce traditional uses unless those uses threaten the object. The president was absolutely right in asking for a review."

The secretary's conference call came shortly before his office released his final recommendations to President Trump on the 27 monuments he reviewed to see if they met the requirements of The Antiquities Act, and shortly after U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah said he would introduce legislation to create an Escalantes Canyon National Park from part of the lands President Clinton set aside. Rep. Stewart, a Republican, didn't give firm specifics of his proposal, other than to say it would call for a national park covering about 100,000 acres.

Under President Trump's proclamation issued Monday, the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante would be divided into three smaller pieces: a 211,983-acre Grand Staircase National Monument, a 551,117-acre Kaiparowits National Monument, and a 243,241-acre Escalante Canyons National Monument.

While Secretary Zinke told reporters that President Trump was not breaking up Bears Ears so oil and gas development could occur there, he was silent on Grand Staircase-Escalante. Republican politicians in Utah, from the local level to the Statehouse and up to the congressional delegation, have sought ways to shrink the Grand Staircase-Escalante almost from the September day President Clinton designated it. Driving much of their determination have been coal reserves on the Kaiparowits Plateau, which covers about 1,650 square miles in southern Utah and touches not only the Grand Staircase-Escalante but also Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Bryce Canyon National Park. A study by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that about 28 billion tons of recoverable coal lie within the plateau.

Andelex Resources envisioned mining that coal for 40 years until the monument was created and banned their project. In the end, the Interior Department paid the company $14 million.

Interior Department staff did not immediately respond Tuesday to the question of whether the administration supports opening those lands back up to coal mining.

Secretary Zinke was vehement in his dismissal of Patagonia's claim, on the outdoor wear company's website, that President Trump effectively "stole your land" by moving to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 2 million acres, and tossed aside contentions that the president's actions would reduce the amount of public lands available for recreation.

"You mean Patagonia made in China?" the secretary said in reply to a reporter's question. "This is an example of a special interest, to suggest that he stole the land. What one square inch was stolen? The federal estate remains intact. And yesterday's actions in Bears Ears, when you restore the national forests to a national forest within Bears Ears, you restore wilderness study areas to a wilderness study area within Bears Ears, when you restore public access, after you restore the lands that are not appropriate to protect an object, given the law, Bears Ears remains larger than Zion and Bryce Canyon combined. Nearly a quarter-million acres.

"Further, the fact that on the other lands, no protections of antiquities are removed. Protections exist on every square inch of federal land," added Secretary Zinke. "But what is different is that we are going to actively manage the properties to ensure we don't have catastrophic forest fires, to ensure our wildlife remains healthy. ... I understand fundraising for these special interest groups. I think it's shameful and appalling that they would blatantly lie in order to gain money in their coffers."

As to other monuments he reviewed, the secretary in his final report to President Trump recommended that:

* The boundaries of Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada be reduced to protect five historic water district springs used by the local water district;

* Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument on the Oregon-California border be reduced in size to remove private lands and those lands designated for timber harvesting;

* Management guidelines for Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine allow for forest thinning to promote healthy forests.

Secretary Zinke also recommended the creation of three new monuments: The Badger II Medicine Area in Montana, Camp Nelson in Kentucky, and the Medgar Evers Home (Mississippi).

* Camp Nelson would protect an 1863 Union Army supply depot, training center, and hospital located on 4,000 acres identified by the secretary.

* Medgar Evers was the first National Association for the Advancement of Colored People field secretary in Mississippi and organized protests and boycotts against segregation across Mississippi. He was assassinated outside his home in 1963 by a white supremacist. The NPS in 2017 designated his house as a National Historic Landmark.

* The Badger-Two Medicine area covers approximately 130,000 acres within the Lewis and Clark National Forest in northwestern Montana. It is bounded by Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. This area of the Rocky Mountain Front was designated a Traditional Cultural District in May 2014, and is considered sacred by the Blackfeet Nation.  Secretary Zinke, along with recommending that it be designated a national monument, called for it to be co-managed by the Blackfeet tribe.

Criticism of the secretary's final report quickly followed its release.

"Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke want to steal Americans’ lands and give them to Big Oil and other corporate polluters. This illegal land grab is just the latest piece of Trump’s agenda to rob the poor and give to the mega-wealthy It comes less than a week after the Senate passed a tax plan to give that will be a boon to corporate polluters," said Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist at Friends of the Earth. "Donald Trump has already overseen the largest elimination of protected areas in U.S. history and now he wants to steal even more. Public lands are meant to be protected for the American people, not handed out to political donors. Trump’s unprecedented giveaway is illegal, and Indigenous communities have already vowed to sue over this attack on their sacred lands."

At the Western Values Project, Executive Director Chris Saeger said, "With such a devastating and unpopular proposal to gut our public lands, it’s no wonder Secretary Zinke hid this report from the public for so long. These recommendations make clear the unprecedented influence of the lobbyists and special interests that now run the Interior Department, and reveal how far Secretary Zinke is willing to go to sell out his fellow Westerners for short-term political gain," he said. "This shameful land grab goes against President Roosevelt’s legacy, and will rob future generations of the public land protections that have preserved our Western way of life.”

But at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., officials praised the president's action.

"This is a first step on the road to undoing an egregious abuse of power that the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations exercised in designating millions of acres of federal land as national monuments. But it is just a first step. Obama alone designated national monuments in Oregon, California, Nevada and Maine as well as off the Atlantic Coast, and these should also be on the chopping block," said National Center Senior Fellow Bonner Cohen, Ph.D. "Ultimately, the problem lies with the Antiquities Act itself. Originally enacted to protect Native American artifacts and sacred sites, it has been transformed into a land-use mechanism that blocks Americans' access to their own natural resources. Since the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906, other laws have been enacted that protect Native American cultural and archeological sites. These other laws do not lend themselves to the abuse we have seen with the Antiquities Act."

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"The federal estate remains intact." Down the rabbit hole we go, Alice. Yes, and when the monuments were designated, the federal estate also remained intact, regardless of how many conservatives such as himself hollered that Obama and Clinton before him "stole" Utahns' lands.

Zinke is sinking to the point where he not only has NO credibiliity, if at all possible he is moving into negative credibility.



Zinke's math isn't the only place where he's factually challenged.  National Forest lands within the National Monument remain National Forest lands, managed by the U.S. Forest Service.  His claim that they would be "Restored" to the National Forest System, if Bears Ears is shrunk, is false.  What the National Monument designation does is prohibit certain activites such as mining.  When Secretary Zinke declares that "Public lands are for public use, not special interests", he is standing on his head.  Opinion surveys and public comments clearly show that a majority of the public wants to keep these National Monuments intact.  The Trump Administration's attempt to shrink the National Monuments to satisfy a few Utah politicians tied to the extractive industries is itself pandering to special interests.  This land grab will be either defeated in the courts, or in the next Congress.

Thank you Glad2beretired.

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Disgusting as all this may be, perhaps there may be a silver lining around the black cloud.  I just returned from three weeks in Death Valley, San Diego, Joshua Tree and some other places.  When news of this crap hit the fan, I had a virtual parade of people who saw Utah license plates on my truck and the Keep Utah Wild and Keep Public Lands in Public Hands stickers on my back window to stop by and begin asking questions.  NONE of them had anything good to say about drumpf.  In fact, several of them used adjectives to describe him that I would never use because I just don't use foul language.  Publicity over his actions here have focused some attention on these issues among people who don't live in Utah, but who still value our park areas.

Some of these people have visited Grand Staircase and the area that would have been Bear's Ears.  They were absolutely outraged.

I was somewhat surprised that many of the people I met in campgrounds along the way seemed to have politics on their minds.  Of all the perhaps 60 people with whom I spoke, NOT ONE had anything good to say about the present mess our country is wallowing in.

I sincerely hope the next two elections will clearly reflect the opinions that seem to be very common out there.

Yes, Lee, many of us felt that Trump being the Republican nominee would inevitably result in a Democrat in the Oval Office. What we didn't realize was that it would take four more years than oroiginally anticipated.

Zinke lied about the acerage because he took a page from his commander, whereas perception is reality, and people would take him at his word rather than look things up.

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