What Ryan Zinke could learn from Sally Jewell

Before the Interior Secretary goes to Utah, he should study his predecessor’s trip

Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visits Bears Ears | Department of the Interior

On Sunday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to travel to Utah to launch his “review” of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. His trip comes only ten months after former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spent four days exhaustively touring the Bears Ears region listening to a range of proposals for the landscape’s future.

Zinke’s trip is part of President Trump’s executive order launching a review of dozens of America’s national monuments, starting with Grand Staircase-Escalante (designated in 1996) and ending with Bears Ears (designated in 2016, five months after Secretary Jewell’s visit).

Secretary Zinke’s schedule remains under lock and key, but what is certain is his predecessor’s outstanding effort to spend time on the ground listening to local voices. The new Interior Secretary would be well-served to take a page out of Jewell’s book.

We obtained Jewell’s schedule from a former senior Interior Department staffer. Take a look below.

The Interior Department was given 45 days (now 36 days, as of the writing of this) to produce a review for Bears Ears and 120 days for Grand Staircase-Escalante — an almost laughably short time frame. Every indication from President Trump is that the outcome is preordained: the review will be used to attempt to shrink or eliminate both monuments. Although it’s unclear whether any action by the president to modify these monuments is even possible (in the case of Grand Staircase-Escalante) or legal (in the case of both).

Before President Obama designated Bears Ears as a national monument, Secretary Jewell spent four days meeting with Utah’s elected officials, gathering with tribal leaders to learn about the region’s cultural history, hiking with stakeholders, and listening to input from more than 1,500 people. The broad-based support for protecting the area’s natural and cultural resources eventually prompted the president to protect Bears Ears as a national monument.

As Jewell travelled more than 870 miles across Utah and into Colorado meeting with Utahns (monument supporters and adversaries alike) she maintained a rigorous level of transparency. The vast majority of her meetings and tours were open to the press.

According to an Interior spokeswoman, Secretary Zinke is “committed to maintaining an ongoing open and positive dialogue” about Bears Ears. We certainly hope that’s the case. Secretary Zinke’s trip should proceed with the same high level of transparency and balance as former Secretary Jewell’s visit.

But Secretary Zinke isn’t off to a good start.

It wasn’t until after the Native American leaders who led the campaign to protect Bears Ears as a national monument held a press conference in Washington urging the Secretary to stop ignoring them, that Zinke finally sat down with monument supporters. The Inter-Tribal Coalition first sent in their request for a meeting with the new Interior Secretary nearly 100 days ago. And news of Secretary Zinke shutting down local advisory panels — made up of a diverse set of stakeholders who provide feedback to the agency — indicates that this administration is not interested in hearing from communities.

Let’s hope Secretary Zinke elects to hold a transparent process and listen to a diversity of stakeholders, but every indication to this point is that the Interior Department and the Trump administration will be making their decisions behind closed doors, out of site of the public.