Interior Secretary Zinke hikes to Native American ruin with Koch-backed political operative while snubbing tribal leaders

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke toured the Bears Ears National Monument yesterday, spending his morning flying over the monument and the afternoon hiking to one of the many thousands of archaeological sites with a slew of national monument opponents. Prominently featured in Secretary Zinke’s tour group was Matt Anderson, a Utah-based political operative with ties to multiple entities funded by the Koch brothers.

Matt Anderson (right), hiking alongside Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (center), and Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (left)

Noticeably absent from the secretary’s tour group, however, was a single member of the five sovereign tribal nations who’ve worked tirelessly for years to permanently protect their cultural heritage within Bears Ears. The message Secretary Zinke is sending is loud and clear: multi-billion dollar campaign donors, industrial development interests, and their hired hands trump everyone else.

This reality is driven home by Matt Anderson’s presence yesterday and the “face time” he was given with Secretary Zinke — photographers captured him hiking through the national monument alongside the secretary and Utah Congressman Rob Bishop. Anderson is a senior policy fellow with Federalism in Action and is also a policy analyst with the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, which is a project of the Sutherland Institute.

Both the Sutherland Institute and Federalism in Action are well-known for receiving their funding through a web of “dark money” groups associated with the Koch brothers, the billionaire industrialists with business holdings in oil, gas, and other petrochemical companies. The Sutherland Institute, for example, has taken in well north of one million dollars from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund — often referred to as the dark money ATM, allowing the Koch brothers and other uber-wealthy, right wing donors to give anonymously. Similarly, Federalism in Action, which was launched a few years ago by the State Policy Network, has deep ties into the Koch brothers funding network. (The Sutherland Institute is also a member of the State Policy Network).

What’s more, Federalism in Action — and its “Free the Lands” project which Matt Anderson runs — has an explicit goal to “shepherd the transfer” of American public lands from the U.S. government to the states. This, of course, is a goal which Secretary Zinke claims to be fiercely opposed to. “Free the Lands” was first established by Utah Representative Ken Ivory who remains under an ethical cloud for mixing state business and his anti-public lands advocacy efforts, while enriching himself in the process. Anderson took the reigns at “Free the Lands” from Rep. Ivory, continueing to push the U.S. government to dispose of public lands into state and private hands.

Despite these troubling links, Secretary Zinke has happily given Matt Anderson his ear, while brushing aside requests from tribal leaders who have made a simple request: “We are asking for equal time.”

Instead, Secretary Zinke is dedicating his time to fiercely anti-monument and anti-public lands advocates. Today, he’s set to ride through Bears Ears on a horse provided by San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams.

Commissioner Adams made news last year when he stated publicly that “nobody really had settled” in the Bears Ears region before his own white ancestors. And nobody has been more honest than Commissioner Bruce Adams about why he, his fellow monument-opponents like Matt Anderson, and the Koch brothers want Secretary Zinke and President Trump to eliminate the Bears Ears National Monument: access to oil, gas, and uranium.

The Bears Ears National Monument, which holds tens of thousands of archaeological sites with spiritual and cultural significance, is exactly the kind of landscape where industrial-scale oil, gas, and mineral development does not belong. It’s why President Obama heeded the request from five sovereign tribal nations and protected the region using the Antiquities Act.

But don’t be surprised when Secretary Zinke and President Trump decide to make the unprecedented and illegal decision to wipe Bears Ears National Monument from the map. After all, that’s the one-sided advice they’re choosing to receive.