Na­tional mon­u­ments re­view a ‘cruel game’ to Zinke’s crit­ics

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

In many re­spects, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sec­ond look at na­tional mon­u­ments across the coun­try is play­ing out less like a typ­i­cal gov­ern­ment re­view and more like a sea­son of “Sur­vivor.”

So far, four mon­u­ments have been spared, while a fifth — the sprawl­ing Bears Ears Na­tional Mon­u­ment in Utah — has been rec­om­mended for mas­sive cuts. In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke, has re­jected the idea of is­su­ing one com­pre­hen­sive study at the end of his work and in­stead is an­nounc­ing win­ners and losers as he goes.

The most re­cent an­nounce­ment was Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, when Mr. Zinke said he be­lieves the Up­per Missouri River Breaks Na­tional Mon­u­ment should be left alone.

“I am rec­om­mend­ing to the pres­i­dent that no changes be made to the mon­u­ment,” he said. “The mon­u­ment is one of the only free-flow­ing ar­eas of the

Missouri that re­mains as Lewis and Clark saw it more than 200 years ago.”

Crit­ics ar­gue that such an an­nounce­ment is a wholly in­ap­pro­pri­ate way of treat­ing the en­tire process and one that harks back to Pres­i­dent Trump’s his­tory with re­al­ity TV, with in­di­vid­ual con­tenders be­ing al­lowed to stay or be­ing dis­missed on an al­most weekly ba­sis.

In ad­di­tion, op­po­nents ar­gue that Mr. Zinke hasn’t ad­e­quately ex­plained his de­ci­sion-making process and has left mon­u­ment back­ers — in­clud­ing law­mak­ers, In­dian tribes and other stake­hold­ers — in the dark.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is play­ing a cruel game with Amer­ica’s pub­lic lands and the Amer­i­can pub­lic,” said Randi Spi­vak, pub­lic lands di­rec­tor with the Center for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity. “Zinke is making up his own rules and ig­nor­ing more than 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple who urged him to leave th­ese mon­u­ments as they are. At least on TV game shows, the con­tes­tants are told what the rules are. This so-called re­view process is ap­palling.”

Mr. Trump signed an ex­ec­u­tive order this year kick-start­ing the first-of-its-kind mon­u­ment re­view, which is de­signed to fig­ure out whether past pres­i­dents — es­pe­cially Pres­i­dent Obama, who des­ig­nated more land and sea as na­tional mon­u­ments than any of his pre­de­ces­sors — abused the cen­tury-old An­tiq­ui­ties Act, which gives pres­i­dents the power to cre­ate mon­u­ments.

The leg­is­la­tion specif­i­cally says pres­i­dents should use the small­est area pos­si­ble in des­ig­nat­ing a mon­u­ment, but Mr. Obama fre­quently used the act to cor­don off huge swaths of wilder­ness, shut­ting down fed­eral land to en­ergy ex­plo­ration and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

The first mon­u­ment in the crosshairs was Bears Ears, a 1.35-mil­lion-acre tract in Utah that Mr. Zinke said in­cludes hun­dreds of thou­sands of acres that don’t ap­pear to meet the proper def­i­ni­tion of a mon­u­ment. The sec­re­tary’s in­terim rec­om­men­da­tions would dra­mat­i­cally shrink the size of Bears Ears, a de­ci­sion he announced shortly af­ter vis­it­ing the site.

Mr. Zinke re­cently announced that other mon­u­ments would be left as is.

He said Wash­ing­ton’s Han­ford Reach Na­tional Mon­u­ment, Idaho’s Craters of the Moon Na­tional Mon­u­ment and Pre­serve, and Colorado’s Canyons of the An­cients each would re­main in­tact.

In each in­stance, the sec­re­tary made the an­nounce­ment through widely cir­cu­lated press re­leases that in­duced sighs of re­lief from mon­u­ment sup­port­ers.

“This is great news for Colorado, and I’m thrilled the Depart­ment of the In­te­rior lis­tened to Coloradans and will make no changes to Canyons of the An­cients Na­tional Mon­u­ment’s des­ig­na­tion,” Sen. Cory Gard­ner, Colorado Repub­li­can, said af­ter the mon­u­ment’s fate was announced.

Other Repub­li­cans ar­gue that the process, while per­haps a bit unortho­dox, is the right way to go about such a con­se­quen­tial study. They say the in­di­vid­ual an­nounce­ments show that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is com­mit­ted to a trans­par­ent process that in­cor­po­rates voices from all sides and then comes to de­ci­sions quickly and pub­licly.

“What’s hap­pen­ing is pos­i­tive and his­toric — un­prece­dented trans­parency,” said Katie Schoet­tler, a spokes­woman for the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee.

The In­te­rior Depart­ment says it’s sim­ply fair to make an­nounce­ments as soon as de­ci­sions are made.

“As mon­u­ments are re­viewed and found to re­quire no mod­i­fi­ca­tion, the depart­ment is re­mov­ing them from the re­view and let­ting press and lo­cal stake­hold­ers know the depart­ment’s de­ci­sion. We get ques­tions from the press and other stake­hold­ers, and it’s our job to keep them all in­formed. It’s com­mon sense,” said Heather Swift, the In­te­rior Depart­ment’s press sec­re­tary.

Mr. Zinke’s mon­u­ment tour con­tin­ued last week­end as he vis­ited New Mex­ico’s Or­gan Moun­tains-Desert Peaks Na­tional Mon­u­ment. His trip in­cluded heli­copter and ground tours of the area, and meet­ings with lo­cal law­mak­ers, tribal lead­ers and other of­fi­cials.

A de­ci­sion on that mon­u­ment’s fate is ex­pected soon.

He also has vis­ited Ne­vada’s Gold Butte and Basin and Range mon­u­ments. Sim­i­lar to what crit­ics of the Bears Ears de­ci­sion said, Mr. Zinke’s op­po­nents said his fact-find­ing tour and lis­ten­ing ses­sions in Ne­vada seemed more like for­mal­i­ties than sin­cere at­tempts to gather in­for­ma­tion.

“They turned it into a po­lit­i­cal event in­stead of making it what it was sup­posed to be, get­ting good in­for­ma­tion about the value of our mon­u­ments. We don’t ap­pre­ci­ate it,” Rep. Dina Ti­tus, Ne­vada Demo­crat, said fol­low­ing Mr. Zinke’s trip to the state, as quoted by E&E News.

De­ci­sions on the Ne­vada mon­u­ments also are ex­pected soon.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, many of whom have vowed to wage an un­prece­dented le­gal war against any at­tempts to down­size mon­u­ments, say Mr. Zinke’s han­dling of the process proves that In­te­rior’s true mo­tive is to free up pro­tected fed­eral land for en­ergy ex­plo­ration.

“This In­te­rior Depart­ment is clearly in the pocket of the oil and gas in­dus­try, so com­mu­ni­ties will have to fight harder than ever to de­fend their pub­lic lands from corporate ex­ploita­tion,” said Diana Best, a se­nior cli­mate cam­paigner with Green­peace. “The bottom line is that the na­tional mon­u­ment re­view is com­pletely in tune with the rest of the dys­func­tion coming from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in that it is both in­com­pe­tent and ma­li­cious.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke has vis­ited Ne­vada’s Gold Butte and other na­tional mon­u­ments. Op­po­nents said his fact-find­ing tour and lis­ten­ing ses­sions in Ne­vada seemed more like for­mal­i­ties than sin­cere at­tempts to gather in­for­ma­tion.

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