Push for smaller mon­u­ments

That is ex­cept in In­te­rior Sec­re­tary’s home state

Riverbank News - - PERSPECTIVE -

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke has closely fol­lowed his boss’ play­book, en­cour­ag­ing min­ing and drilling on pub­lic lands and re­duc­ing the size of na­tional mon­u­ments that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump called a “massive land grab” by his Demo­cratic pre­de­ces­sors.

Ex­cept, that is, in Mon­tana.

In Zinke’s home state, the for­mer con­gress­man who has long har­bored higher po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions is rec­om­mend­ing Trump cre­ate a new na­tional mon­u­ment out of the forests bor­der­ing Glacier Na­tional Park, to the dis­ap­point­ment of a com­pany that wants to drill for nat­u­ral gas there.

A cou­ple hun­dred miles away, where rocky bluffs line the Mis­souri River, he de­cided to leave in­tact a 590-square-mile ( 1,528- square- kilo­me­ter) mon­u­ment that for 16 years has stirred the kind of im­pas­sioned lo­cal op­po­si­tion that Zinke cited in jus­ti­fy­ing changes to mon­u­ments else­where.

And he wants to curb min­ing along Mon­tana’s border with Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park. That could dis­cour­age de­vel­op­ment of two proposed mines that sup­port­ers say would offer higher pay­ing jobs than tourism.

The de­ci­sion was based on Zinke’s be­lief that “some places are too pre­cious to mine,” his spokes­woman said last month.

Zinke, a ru­mored can­di­date for U.S. Se­nate in 2018 or gover­nor in 2020, ap­pears to be carv­ing out an ex­cep­tion for Mon­tana from Trump’s agenda to open more pub­lic lands to nat­u­ral re­sources de­vel­op­ment. Whether it stems from Mon­tana pride or po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion in a state where con­ser­va­tion has bi­par­ti­san ap­peal, the re­sults have ran­kled both sides in the de­bate over man­ag­ing mil­lions of acres of pub­lic lands in the U.S. West.

“It’s to­tally fa­voritism,” said Land Tawney, pres­i­dent of the con­ser­va­tion group Back­coun­try Hunters and An­glers.

Tawney is a friend of the pres­i­dent’s son, Don­ald Trump Jr., and his group threw its sup­port be­hind Zinke’s nom­i­na­tion last win­ter. But he said the In­te­rior sec­re­tary’s rec­om­men­da­tions to scale back four large mon­u­ments in the West, in­clud­ing Bears Ears in Utah, rep­re­sent a “sell­out to in­dus­try” that’s putting pub­lic land and wildlife at risk. Zinke also called for shrink­ing two marine mon­u­ments in the Pa­cific Ocean.

“We’re happy he rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of the Badger Two-Medicine,” Tawney said, re­fer­ring to the 203-square-mile (526-square-kilo­me­ter) area south of Glacier that Zinke rec­om­mends be a mon­u­ment. “Places that are very sim­i­lar in fash­ion, like Bears Ears, he’s not quite pro­tect­ing. ... You can’t talk out of both sides of your mouth.”

Zinke spokes­woman Heather Swift de­clined to com­ment on how he came to rec­om­mend a mon­u­ment des­ig­na­tion for Badger-Two Medicine or whether he was treat­ing pub­lic lands in Mon­tana dif­fer­ently than else­where.

Of the 27 mon­u­ments that Trump in May or­dered Zinke to re­view, the In­te­rior Depart­ment so far has pub­licly iden­ti­fied six that would not be mod­i­fied in some fash­ion, in­clud­ing the one in Mon­tana and mon­u­ments in Wash­ing­ton, Ari­zona, Colorado, Idaho and Cal­i­for­nia.

Zinke’s rec­om­men­da­tions for smaller mon­u­ments in­clude a sec­ond site in Utah and lo­ca­tions in Ne­vada and Ore­gon. He also would al­low log­ging at a Maine mon­u­ment and more graz­ing, hunting and fish­ing at two sites in New Mex­ico.

In his rec­om­men­da­tions to Trump, con­tained in a re­cently leaked memo, Zinke noted that the Badger-Two Medicine area is sa­cred to the Black­foot tribes of the U.S. and Canada.

Zinke also sug­gested mon­u­ment sta­tus for two other sites: Camp Nel­son in Ken­tucky, a Union sup­ply de­pot and hospi­tal where black troops and oth­ers trained dur­ing the Civil War, and the Jack­son, Mis­sis­sippi, home of slain civil rights fig­ure Medgar Evers.

Badger- Two Medicine has been the sub­ject of a long-run­ning dis­pute be­tween the Black­feet Tribe, which has a reser­va­tion next to the proposed mon­u­ment, and a Louisiana oil and gas com­pany, Solenex, which wants to drill on the land.

Zinke’s rec­om­men­da­tion for the area presents an “op­tics prob­lem” at a time when the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has crit­i­cized the use of the 1906 An­tiq­ui­ties Act to cre­ate mon­u­ments, said Wil­liam Perry Pend­ley, pres­i­dent of the con­ser­va­tive Moun­tain States Le­gal Foun­da­tion, which is rep­re­sent­ing Solenex.

“It’s ter­ri­bly dis­ap­point­ing,” Pend­ley said. “What the sec­re­tary ought to be send­ing to the pres­i­dent is a rec­om­men­da­tion to re­peal the An­tiq­ui­ties Act, to put an end to this is­sue.”

Pend­ley com­pared Zinke’s ac­tions to those of Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton in 1996, when he halted a gold mine near Yel­low­stone, and of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion last year, when it proposed to end new min­ing claims on 30,000 acres near the park, which Zinke now sup­ports.

Zinke has made no se­cret of his po­lit­i­cal de­sires. In his first term in the U.S. House, he raised his hand to be­come speaker but didn’t get cho­sen af­ter Ohio Rep. John Boehner re­signed. Last year, Zinke be­came an early sup­porter of Trump and pub­licly stated his de­sire to be picked as vice pres­i­dent.

In Mon­tana, he’s been viewed as a potential con­tender against U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Demo­crat up for re-elec­tion next year whom Repub­li­cans con­sider vul­ner­a­ble. An­a­lysts say it’s not too late for Zinke to jump in.

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