Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Sunday launched a “listening tour” across Utah designed to quell an uproar over his department’s controversial review of national monuments.
Mr. Zinke is spearheading a federal study of more than two dozen land and marine monuments following an executive order from President Trump last month.
The process is likely to lead to the first revocation of a U.S. monument, though there are still outstanding legal questions about whether a president has the power to make such a rescission.
Attempts to un-designate any monument surely will be met with legal challenges from environmental groups and tribal groups.
Mr. Zinke’s review notably includes Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, established late in President Barack Obama’s tenure and a prime example, critics say, of the previous administration stretching the century-old Antiquities Act to its breaking point in declaring vast areas of land as monuments and shutting them off from energy exploration and other activities.
Mr. Zinke met Sunday afternoon in Salt Lake City with members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, kicking off a trip that will include a stop at Bears Ears on Tuesday and conclude Wednesday.
While Sunday’s meeting was not open to the public or press, about 500 people protested outside the building as it occurred, carrying signs and shouting “Save our monuments, stand with Bears Ears!”
Talking with reporters after the meeting, Mr. Zinke said the local Indians are “smart, capable, passionate, and have a deep sense of tie to their culture and want to preserve it.”
He said no decisions had been made and that he was coming to Utah “without any predisposition of outcome.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said Sunday evening that the Indians might be being manipulated by left-wing political groups.
More broadly, the monuments review includes sites dating back to 1924’s Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho through Bears Ears.
Other notable monuments under review include Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hanford Reach in Washington, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, the Papahanaumokuakea marine monument off the coast of Hawaii and a host of others.
Though the review need not mean any will be stripped of their designations, it’s clear the administration intends to shrink the number of monuments and, in the process, open up that land for energy development.
Critics charge that the listening tour, along with the fact that the Interior Department is soliciting public comments as part of its study, is a sham.
“Trump and Zinke pretend to care what the public thinks, but they’re really only listening to the oil, gas and timber industries. It’s special interests, not the public, that want these monuments to lose protection,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We must leave these spectacular cultural and national treasures just as they are. Our grandchildren won’t look back and wish we’d cut down more trees or drilled for more oil.”
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