All of the falsehoods in Ryan Zinke’s leaked national monuments report

The Interior Secretary made at least 30 false and misleading claims to President Trump

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wags his finger at a supporter of Bears Ears National Monument, May 8, 2017

In the week since the Washington Post published Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s secret final report on national monuments, a staggering number of falsehoods and misleading claims have come to light. The errors, taken in whole, suggest the entire report is nothing more than a pretext to open protected public lands and waters to extractive industries like coal, oil, timber, and industrial-scale fishing, with little attention paid to scientific accuracy.

Senator Martin Heinrich kicked off the fact-checking during an Environment and Natural Resources Hearing in which the Acting Deputy Operations Manager at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) admitted his department was not asked to fact-check the report before Secretary Zinke submitted it to the president, despite the fact that most of the monuments in question are managed by BLM.

We now know that Zinke’s report is riddled with factual errors large and small, along with highly misleading claims which omit relevant facts that President Trump would need to know in order to make informed decisions about the future of America’s national monuments.

For example, Zinke’s recommendation for every land monument says:

“The proclamation should be amended, through the use of appropriate authority, including lawful exercise of the President’s discretion granted by the Act, to protect objects and prioritize … traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.”

This recommendation, which Secretary Zinke copied and pasted seven times in his report, is both false and unnecessary. The Antiquities Act is a “one-way” statute; it only grants presidents the authority to protect or expand existing monuments. Legal scholars point out that presidents have no discretion to modify existing monuments — Congress reserved that power for itself. Furthermore, all of the monument proclamations Zinke reviewed already protect traditional uses and tribal cultural uses, as well as recreational hunting and fishing access.

Here are the most egregious errors the Center for Western Priorities has identified so far:

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon

Bureau of Land Management

CLAIM: “Motorized transportation was prohibited in the original CSNM designation.” (page 11)

VERDICT: False
Motorized transportation is allowed on roads within the monument by the original proclamation. Only off-road motorized transportation was restricted. There are hundreds of miles of roads within Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

CLAIM: “Due to poor maintenance, remaining usable roads in CSNM are unpassable and unsuitable for use.” (page 11)

VERDICT: False
Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council told the Associated Press, “There are hundreds of roads inside this monument. I live on private land inside the monument. Do we walk or ride horses?”

CLAIM: “The proclamation should be amended…to protect objects and prioritize…hunting and fishing rights.” (page 11)

VERDICT: False
President Clinton’s monument proclamation specifically recognizes “the jurisdiction of the State of Oregon with respect to fish and wildlife management.” President Obama’s expansion proclamation does the same, while adding the state of California.

Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada

Bureau of Land Management

CLAIM: “The boundary should be revised…to protect historic water rights.” (page 12)

VERDICT: False
The monument proclamation says “the monument is subject to valid existing rights, including valid existing water rights,” and the general manager of the Virgin Valley Water District admits his agency has enough water rights to meet projections through or beyond the year 2080, including rights to springs located within the national monument.

CLAIM: “There have been two legislative attempts to designate this area as a National Conservation Area, first in 2008 and again in 2015.” (page 12)

VERDICT: False
There have been at least five legislative attempts to protect Gold Butte since 2008, including bills from Reps. Shelley Berkley, Steven Horsford, and Dina Titus, as well as two bills from Senator Harry Reid.

CLAIM: “The proclamation should be amended…to protect objects and prioritize…hunting and fishing rights.” (page 12)

VERDICT: False
The monument proclamation specifically confirms “the jurisdiction of the State of Nevada, including its jurisdiction and authority with respect to fish and wildlife management, including hunting and fishing.”

CLAIM: “The management plan should be revised to continue to protect objects but also prioritize public access…; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.” (page 13)

VERDICT: False
The Gold Butte management plan does not exist yet. According to a report from March, 2017, the BLM is in the early stages of developing a plan with “assistance from the public and a diverse Advisory Committee.” It is unclear whether those efforts were delayed by the monument review.

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, Utah

Lower Calf Creek Falls, USGS

CLAIM: “…the actual amount of cattle runs has decreased due to restrictions on activities that facilitate grazing, including moving water lines, vegetative management, erosion control measures, and maintenance of infrastructure such as fences and roads.” (page 13)

VERDICT: Misleading
According to the Bureau of Land Management, overall grazing levels have remained steady in the 21 years since designation. When the monument was designated in 1996, there were 77,400 active AUMs (Animal Unit Month). As of July 2015, there were 76,957 AUMs — less than one percent difference.

CLAIM: “…the Paria River Road was closed over the objection of one of the Counties and in spite of its assertion that the road was a valid County right-of-way under Revised Statute 2477.” (page 13)

VERDICT: Misleading
Paria River Road is in the Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area, which predates the national monument. The road would have been closed with or without the monument designation. As the Bureau of Land Management explains, that means “until Congress acts to either designate it as wilderness or releases it, we have to manage it so as not to prevent Congress from designating it as wilderness.”

CLAIM: “The proclamation should be amended…to protect objects and prioritize…hunting and fishing rights.” (page 13)

VERDICT: False
The monument proclamation specifically confirms the “authority of the State of Utah for management of fish and wildlife, including regulation of hunting and fishing.”

Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument, New Mexico

Bureau of Land Management

CLAIM: “…one part of OMDPNM abuts the U.S.-Mexico border.” (page 15)

VERDICT: False
As Senator Martin Heinrich confirmed with the Bureau of Land Management, the southern boundary of Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument is five miles away from the U.S.-Mexico border, and a major highway, State Route 9, runs between the monument at the border.

CLAIM: “Border security is a concern resulting from the designation.” (page 15)

VERDICT: False
In January 2014, prior to the monument declaration, then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell met with Border Patrol and Bureau of Land Management officials to confirm BLM’s cooperation with border security efforts. The monument proclamation confirms and supports a 2006 Memorandum of Understanding between the Interior, Agriculture, and Homeland Security Departments on cooperative security efforts along the border. Customs and Border Protection confirmed the monument “will in no way limit our ability to perform our important border security mission, and in fact provides important flexibility as we work to meet this ongoing priority.”

CLAIM: “The proclamation should be amended…to protect objects and prioritize…hunting and fishing rights.” (page 16)

VERDICT: False
The monument proclamation specifically recognizes “the jurisdiction of the State of New Mexico, including its jurisdiction and authority with respect to fish and wildlife management.”

CLAIM: “The management plan should be revised to continue to protect objects and prioritize public access…; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.” (page 16)

VERDICT: False
In a letter to the White House, New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Ben Lujan and Michelle Grisham reminded the administration that the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks management plan does not, in fact, exist yet. According to the executive director of Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, Ben Gabriel, the public’s involvement in drafting the monument’s management plan was put on hold during Zinke’s review.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine

East Branch of Penobscot River, Wikimedia Commons

CLAIM: “This land was private before its donation, and any traditional uses such as timbering, hunting and snowmobiling were permitted as part of custom of the local area.” (page 14)

VERDICT: Misleading
In recent decades, private landowners had closed access to the Katahdin woods for snowmobiling, hunting, and hiking. Only very recently was public access granted by the Quimby family, who donated the land to the American people last year. Had the family not donated the land for permanent protection as a national monument, public access would continue to be at the whim of future owners. The donation of the land and subsequent designation as a national monument ensured public access for generations to come.

CLAIM: “There is a strong historical role of timbering in the region, and the KWWNM Proclamation gives extensive attention to this as part of the narrative for the designation.” (page 14)

VERDICT: Misleading
The proclamation points to the cessation of logging as a reason to protect the Katahdin woods, not a reason to resume logging: “Although significant portions of the area have been logged in recent years, the regenerating forests retain connectivity and provide significant biodiversity among plant and animal communities, enhancing their ecological resilience. With the complex matrix of microclimates represented, the area likely contains the attributes needed to sustain natural ecological function in the face of climate change, and provide natural strongholds for species into the future.”

CLAIM: “The proclamation should be revised…to continue to protect objects and prioritize…hunting and fishing rights.” (page 14)

VERDICT: False
Hunting and fishing is at Katahdin is prescribed by the deeds that were donated to the American people to create the monument. Seven of the 13 deeds specifically allow hunting. The monument proclamation says, “As provided in the deeds, the Secretary shall allow hunting by the public on the parcels east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River in accordance with applicable law. The Secretary may restrict hunting in designated zones and during designated periods for reasons of public safety, administration, or resource protection.”

CLAIM: “The management plan should be revised to continue to protect objects and prioritize public access…; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.” (page 14)

VERDICT: False
The Katahdin Woods and Waters management plan does not exist yet. In May, 2017, the National Park Service wrote, “Over the next several months, we will continue to meet with organizations, state agencies, schools, towns and businesses to learn more about opportunities for the new monument…. Input received will be used to draft a management plan that will guide the long-term direction for Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.”

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Bureau of Land Management

CLAIM: “The boundary should be revised through the use of appropriate authority, including lawful exercise of the President’s discretion granted by the [Antiquities] Act, to continue to protect objects and ensure the size is conducive to effective protection of the objects.” (page 10)

Utah Division of State History

VERDICT: Impossible
Maps produced by the Utah Division of State History show there is no way to carve down the boundaries of Bears Ears without omitting thousands of significant cultural sites.

CLAIM: “…there is evidence that an unintended consequence of monument designation is an increased threat of damage or looting of objects due to higher visitation.” (page 7)

VERDICT: Misleading
Secretary Zinke does not provide evidence for this claim. There is, however, evidence of years of looting at areas in need of protection, including an organized antiquities theft ring in southern Utah that was broken up by the FBI in 2009. Given the high-profile looting taking place in Bears Ears prior to the designation, the national monument status creates a vital framework for both protection and education.

CLAIM: “The proclamation should be amended…to protect objects and prioritize…hunting and fishing rights.” (page 10)

VERDICT: False
The monument proclamation mentions hunting numerous times and acknowledges “the jurisdiction of the State of Utah, including its jurisdiction and authority with respect to fish and wildlife management.”

CLAIM: “The management plan should be revised to continue to protect objects and prioritize public access…; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.” (page 10)

VERDICT: False
The Bears Ears management plan does not exist yet. Following “pressure from local and state officials,” the BLM suspended the planning process. The delay has hindered efforts to develop infrastructure to safeguard the monument’s thousands of cultural sites. According to Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch, “The need for these protections is now elevated as visitorship to the monument multiplied upon its designation.”

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico

Wikimedia Commons

CLAIM: “Road closures due to monument restrictions have left many grazing permittees choosing not to renew permits.” (page 17)

VERDICT: False
The Albuquerque Journal looked into this claim and reported, “Ranchers who oppose the monument designation can’t cite any roads that have been shut down in the expansive national monument.” The Northern New Mexico Stockmen’s Association, which opposes the monument, said it “had heard” of ranchers not renewing grazing permits, but has not provided any evidence of a single rancher not renewing, much less “many permittees” as the Zinke report claims.

CLAIM: “It consists of 242,455 acres…” (page 17)

VERDICT: False
Rio Grande del Norte is actually 242,555 acres. This is an easy number to verify from the original monument proclamation. Secretary Zinke is instead using an incorrect number apparently copied from an error (since corrected) on Wikipedia.

CLAIM: “The proclamation should be amended…to protect objects and prioritize…hunting and fishing rights.” (page 17)

VERDICT: False
The monument proclamation specifically recognizes “the jurisdiction of the State of New Mexico with respect to fish and wildlife management.” New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich also spoke with the state’s largest sportsmen’s organization and confirmed “hunting and fishing access have actually improved post-monument designation,” and that Rio Grande del Norte now hosts a bighorn sheep hunt that did not exist before the monument designation.

CLAIM: “The management plan should be revised to continue to protect objects and also prioritize public access…; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.” (page 17)

VERDICT: False
The Rio Grande del Norte management plan does not exist yet. In a letter to the White House, New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Ben Lujan and Michelle Grisham point out that the monument review process has, in fact, delayed planning efforts in New Mexico.

Other errors and claims

Grand Canyon by A.D. White, Cornell University Library Collection

CLAIM: “there is no doubt that President Trump has the authority to review and consider recommendations to modify or add a monument.” (page 2)

VERDICT: False
While the president is free to consider anything he wants, legal scholars agree that the president does not have authority to modify a monument because the Antiquities Act reserves that power for Congress. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976 confirmed the limit of the President’s authority, and no president has attempted to unilaterally modify a national monument in the 41 years since FLPMA became law.

CLAIM: “Proponents tended to promote monument designation as a mechanism to prevent the sale or transfer of public land. This narrative is false and has no basis in fact.” (page 2)

VERDICT: Misleading
This is a gross mischaracterization of the public comments in support of national monuments. The comments overwhelmingly supported national monuments as a way to preserve America’s natural and cultural history for future generations, not merely to prevent them from being sold.

CLAIM: “Adherence to the Act’s definition of an ‘object’…on some monuments were either arbitrary or likely politically motivated….” (page 2)

VERDICT: False
The Antiquities Act does not include a definition of what an “object” is. The law simply states that presidents may protect “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” as national monuments. Courts have added clarity in the years following the Act’s passage, however. In Cameron v. United States (1920), the Supreme Court ruled that Grand Canyon National Monument, at 800,000 acres, was an “object of historic or scientific interest,” setting a clear legal precedent that geographic areas are indeed objects. Furthermore, Secretary Zinke does not provide a single example in the entire report of an “object” he believes was protected as a result of political motivations.

CLAIM: “DOI has heard that these designations provide no more protection than already applicable land management authorities can.” (page 9)

VERDICT: False
Despite what DOI has “heard,” monument designations do provide additional protections and plainly protect against new development that would otherwise be allowed in an area, including new coal, oil, gas, and uranium claims.

Marianas Trench,
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts,
Pacific Remote Islands,
Papahānaumokuākea,
Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments

Rose Atoll, NASA/Wikimedia Commons

CLAIMS: “Presidential Proclamation № 9173 on September 2014, which added 495,189 square miles…” (page 16)

(page 6)

VERDICT: 80% False
Of the five marine national monuments in the report, Secretary Zinke listed incorrect acreage numbers at four of them. His source appears to be this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, but thanks to a series of typos, Marianas Trench, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, and Papahānaumokuākea are all incorrect in the table above.

Later in the report, Zinke claims that President Obama added 495,189 square miles to Pacific Remote Islands National Monument. President Obama actually added 308,316 square nautical miles to the monument. The number Zinke uses appears to be copied from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, which puts the total size of the monument (including both the original monument and President Obama’s expansion) at 495,189 square miles. This is different from the official USFWS calculation of the monument’s size (313,941,851.32 acres/490,488 square miles), which, while appearing correctly on page 6, is smaller than the unofficial size Secretary Zinke appears to have both copied and used incorrectly on page 16.

While these may be minor errors, the lack of basic fact-checking and editing seen in this single table continues throughout the secretary’s final report — submitted to the President of the United States — which is riddled with typographical errors.

Pacific Remote Islands

Pacific Remote Islands, NOAA

CLAIM: “Prior to monument designation, there were Hawaiian and American Samoan longliners and purse seiners vessels operating.” (page 16)

VERDICT: Misleading
The bottom line of commercial fishing operators — including purse seines and longline vessels — in western and central Pacific fisheries remains unaffected by the monument designation. There has been no reduction in the number of American vessels fishing, the days they have been allowed to fish, or in the amount of fish caught, as a result of the monument designation. In fact, in 2016, the last year for which data is available, the number of active longlines increased, as did longline bigeye catch, while the number of active purse seines remained relatively stable.

Rose Atoll

Rose Atoll, NOAA

CLAIM: “Prior to 2002, the waters that were included in RAMNM and adjoining areas closer to the main islands were important commercial fishing areas.” (page 17)

VERDICT: Misleading
In 2002, seven years before the establishment of Rose Atoll National Monument, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council established a 50-nautical mile zone around islands within American Samoa in which large commercial ships (greater than 50 feet in length) could not fish for certain species. This action was intended to prevent depletion of nearshore fish stocks and to prevent conflict between large commercial vessels and small, local fishing vessels.