Zinke vs. Zinke on national monuments

Conflicting statements from the Interior Secretary show his review lacks consistent criteria, rigorous analysis

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will soon offer recommendations to President Trump on whether to eliminate national monuments around the country. In the months since President Trump’s executive order, it has become increasingly clear that the result of Secretary Zinke’s review is predetermined. Instead of meticulously reviewing national monuments, Zinke’s process has been arbitrary and devoid of any rigorous analysis.

A quick look at Secretary Zinke’s comments shows he can’t even keep his own story straight, often using identical reasoning to argue for maintaining protections at some monuments, while eliminating monument acreage from other sites.

Public input matters, except when the public sends a message Zinke doesn’t want to hear

The secretary would like to hear from all sides.

Throughout the national monument review, Secretary Zinke has fallen all over himself saying he wants to hear from all Americans, including monument supporters. He has urged monument advocates to submit electronic comments, saying their voice would be heard. From the beginning of the review, Zinke has repeatedly said “there is no pre-determined outcome on any monument.”

From Secretary Zinke’s first trip to review national monuments, it has been clear the outcome of the review for certain monuments was pre-ordained. When touring Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, Zinke packed his schedule with monument opponents, including the Koch-funded Sutherland Institute. After shutting out local business owners supporting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Zinke shrugged, saying “that’s the breaks.”

Monument supporters rally at the Utah State Capitol | Photo by Tim Peterson

Zinke then recommended that President Trump “right-size” Bears Ears National Monument, even though 98 percent of all comments submitted supported keeping the monument intact, including by a 9-to-1 margin from self-described Utahns. Disingenuously, after recommending the monument be shrunk, he extended the comment period for Bears Ears, saying “I want every advocate to have their voice heard.”

Similarly, during a fact-finding visit to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, Secretary Zinke told a group of veterans that he already planned to eliminate acreage from the national monument.

Zinke is troubled by monuments made up of disconnected parcels, but is considering splitting Bears Ears National Monument into separate parcels

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument | BLM Flickr

While touring New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, which consists of four separate parcels, Secretary Zinke noted it is a “little disconnected,” and that “the boundaries are difficult to discern — between private, public, state lands,” clearly insinuating that a more unified, connected monument would be worthwhile.

Zinke’s message could not have been more different as he concluded his tour of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites. Instead of expressing concern over a scattered set of monument parcels, Zinke advocated for splitting up the monument, saying “these items and objects can be identified, segregated and reasonably separated.” He doubled down on that idea, saying “it would have been more appropriate to identify and separate the areas that have significant objects to be protected to meet the purposes of the [Antiquities] Act.”

Zinke supports protecting areas with ancient cultural sites, except when it comes to Bears Ears National Monument

Citadel Ruins in Bears Ears National Monument | BLM Flickr

Though Secretary Zinke did not visit Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, he pardoned the monument from elimination or reduction, noting “​​Canyons of the Ancients​ ​is​ gorgeous land, but its monument status as the most high-density Native American archaeological sites in the Nation​ is clear. The history at this site spans thousands of years, and the federal protection of these objects and history ​will help us preserve this site for a thousand more years.” Indeed, national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act are important tools to protect archaeological sites threatened by looting and vandalism.

Yet again, after touring Bears Ears National Monument, Zinke discounted the importance of protecting the area’s immense cultural and archaeological history. Zinke noted his skepticism, saying “If you look at the Bears Ears as a whole, there’s a lot more drop-dead gorgeous land than there are historic, prehistoric objects.” Again, instead of working to preserve the rich cultural history of the region, he maintained “these items and objects can be identified, segregated and reasonably separated.” In a vast landscape where archaeological sites are around every corner — and many have yet to be mapped — this piecemeal approach is particularly unpractical.

Zinke thinks geologic wonders are worth protecting, but maybe not at Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument | BLM Flickr

When touring national monuments, Secretary Zinke has repeatedly touted the scientific value of geology. When pardoning Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, Zinke stated “As a former geologist, I realize Craters of the Moon is a living timeline of the geologic history of our land on the Great Rift. Whether it’s hiking up the alien-like lava flows along the Spatter Cones, or just driving through the scenic loop, there’s a lot to see and learn at this historic location.” Touring Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks in New Mexico, Zinke noted “the features, as a geologist, I was particularly fascinated with the basalts and the volcanics — beautiful ground.”

Utah’s Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is home to rich geologic formations and is a hotspot for dinosaur fossils. It is also home to untapped coal deposits. Despite the spectacular landscape and important geologic record, Secretary Zinke is rumored to be considering drastically reducing Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. In his tour of the monument, he was fairly explicit in why he would remove protections for the area, saying “Monuments should never be put in a position to prevent rather than protect and the president is pro-energy across the board.”

Zinke supports protecting large landscapes, except when he doesn’t

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument | BLM Flickr

In August, Secretary Zinke officially pardoned Arizona’s Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument. This vast, landscape-scale monument protects more than 1 million acres of spectacular scenery near the Grand Canyon. Zinke announced: “Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument’s review process has concluded and I am recommending no changes be made to the monument​. The land has some of the most pristine and undeformed geological formations in North America, which show the scientific history of our earth while containing thousands of years of human relics and fossils.”

After touring Bears Ears National Monument, covering 1.35 million acres of spectacular scenery and archaeological sites, Zinke opined “Bears Ears is a little large to me. Beautiful country.” In his interim recommendations to President Trump, Zinke said “the monument needs to be right-sized.”

It is clear the result of Secretary Zinke’s national monument review is preordained. His statements show the review is completely arbitrary and devoid of rigor. Secretary Zinke seems to be treating the review of each monument like a Magic 8-Ball — he’ll keep shaking it until he gets the answer he wants.