Ryan Zinke can’t stop lying about national monuments
The Interior Secretary deploys alternative facts at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is trying as hard as he can to defend the indefensible — the largest-ever reduction of public lands protections in American history.
In the days after President Trump signed a proclamation that attempted to remove more than two million acres from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments, Secretary Zinke has used a set of egregious false and misleading talking points in the media.
Zinke: “There’s not one square inch of land that’s removed from federal protection.”
This argument, made during Zinke’s appearance on Fox Business, is so blatantly wrong it’s hard to understand how he can say it with a straight face. A national monument is a form of federal protection. By erasing more than 2 million acres from national monuments, President Trump’s proclamation expressly attempts to remove federal protections. Had Zinke claimed land was not being removed from federal ownership, technically he’d be correct. However, under the president’s order, land that was protected from coal and uranium mining will be open to new mining claims if President Trump and Secretary Zinke succeed in court, and Americans will certainly lose access to their land when that happens.
Zinke: “In recent years, however, presidents have abused the Antiquities Act to lock up vast swaths of public land…. as public access, hunting and fishing, and use of private property are restricted.”
Using the Antiquities Act to protect landscape-scale monuments is not a recent development. President Teddy Roosevelt, who Zinke cites as a role model whenever possible, signed the Antiquities Act in 1906 then quickly used it to protect 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon. That proclamation was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1920, setting a clear precedent that the Antiquities Act can be properly and legally used to protect “vast swaths” of public land.
As for Zinke’s claim that national monuments restrict “public access, hunting and fishing, and use of private property,” that’s a bald-faced lie. He knows that the national monuments in question specifically protect all of those things.
Even the proclamation he links to, establishing Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, plainly states that the monument “is subject to valid existing rights,” which protects private property owners, and it affirms “the jurisdiction of the State of Oregon with respect to fish and wildlife management,” ensuring hunting and fishing access.
Zinke: “The Antiquities Act is not a weapon for presidents to arbitrarily restrict the uses of hundreds of thousands of acres of land to prevent uses like timber harvesting and cattle grazing — ways of life for many American families and the lifeblood of many local economies. It is also not a tool for presidents to use to restrict access for outdoor recreation on land that belongs to all of us.”
It’s true that Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument protects old-growth forest from logging, but false that monuments restrict cattle grazing. The Cascade-Siskiyou proclamation specifically protected existing grazing leases, and at Grand Staircase–Escalante, overall grazing levels remained steady in the years since designation — fluctuating less than one percent in 21 years.
The secretary’s next claim that national monuments “restrict access for outdoor recreation” is laughable. Outdoor recreation businesses are among the largest supporters of national monuments because they enhance recreation opportunities and boost local economies. The giant Outdoor Retailer trade show pulled up stakes and left Utah last year because of the state’s ongoing attacks on national monuments.
Zinke: “…the proclamation continues to protect important objects — from the Bears Ears buttes and headwaters, Moon House Ruin, and Doll House Ruin, to unique paleontological resources and areas sacred to Native Americans.”
President Trump is attempting to remove protections from tens of thousands of archaeological sites in Bears Ears. The vast majority of cultural sites are now excluded from monument boundaries, including all of Cedar Mesa, Valley of the Gods, Moqui Canyon, and Citadel Ruins.
Zinke: “The Bears Ears Commission will be renamed the Shash Jáa Commission and expanded to include San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, a Native American elected by the majority-Native American voting district in the county. While previous presidents have said the right things about Native Americans, President Trump is backing it up with action, by requesting from Congress that tribes be granted full co-management authority of the Shash Jaa Unit.”
Secretary Zinke neglects to mention that San Juan County has been disenfranchising Native American voters for decades, and judges have thrown out gerrymandered maps twice in the last two years. And while County Commissioner Rebecca Benally is Native American, she does not represent the Navajo Nation, which is suing the secretary and President Trump for this action.
Additionally, the congressional bill that Zinke refers to, HR 4532, would not grant tribes true co-management — it would effectively give Utah politicians veto authority over the the membership of the management council, continuing a long history of paternalism toward Native Americans in Utah.
Zinke: “At the same time, the new proclamation makes more than a million acres of land that was unnecessary for protection available now to tribal members, Utahns, and other members of the public to use it as they did prior to the Bears Ears designation.”
This is another blatant lie; the original Bears Ears monument proclamation specifically ensures “access by members of Indian tribes for traditional cultural and customary uses.” Hunting and fishing use by the public is similarly guaranteed — only future oil, gas, coal, and uranium mining claims are restricted.
Zinke: “The modified [Grand Staircase–Escalante] monument retains important objects of historic or scientific interest identified in the original designation…. President Trump’s proclamation reduces the monument by more than 850,000 acres, bringing back access and curbing federal overreach.”
Again, national monuments do not restrict public access, they guarantee it. Without monument status, parts of Grand Staircase–Escalante are likely to be transformed into a coal mine — and you can’t go hiking, camping, hunting, or fishing in a coal mine, even if it’s on public land.
Furthermore, it’s impossible to remove 850,000 acres from Grand Staircase–Escalante without endangering future scientific discoveries; only six percent of the monument has been surveyed by paleontologists so far. Paleontologists have discovered 25 unique dinosaur species and expect to find more if the fossils there aren’t disturbed by mining operations.
Zinke: “A management plan in a monument only focuses on the objects and sometimes overlooks grazing, recreation opportunity, the ability to mountain bike, and so we’re bringing the “r” back in recreation for America.”
President Obama’s proclamation protecting Bears Ears certainly did not overlook recreation — it specifically mentions recreation as one of the reasons why the area needed immediate protection. At Grand Staircase–Escalante, a thriving outdoor economy has developed in the 21 years since the monument was created, and in May, Secretary Zinke ignored a crowd of small business owners who chanted “talk to us” as he flew away on a private plane, having only listened to coal interests, not small businesses in the region.
And as we noted above, grazing is also specifically protected in national monument designations. President Clinton’s proclamation establishing Grand Staircase–Escalante says “existing grazing uses shall continue to be governed by applicable laws and regulations other than this proclamation.”
Zinke: “The President’s actions focus on … prioritizing the voice of the people over that of the special interest groups.”
The “voice of the people” made their preferences known to Secretary Zinke: 99 percent of the 2.8 million public comments submitted told him to leave America’s national monuments alone. The special interests at play here are the remaining one percent that Zinke actually listened to, including the uranium company that twice asked Zinke to shrink Bears Ears so it could have access to “many other known uranium and vanadium deposits” inside the monument.