Last month The Washington Post obtained a leaked memo from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that recommends drastically reducing the size of both Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase National Monument (GSENM) in Utah, as well as shrinking or altering eight other National Monuments that were on Trump’s Executive Order 13792 hit list.
The White House had been refusing to release the memo which Zinke submitted in August, despite Earthjustice’s Freedom of Information Act request on behalf of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council.
Even though 99.2% of 2,836,268 public comments received by the U.S. Department of the interior support keeping national monument boundaries where they are, Zinke claims that “public comments can be divided into two principal groups.” In several places, Zinke’s memo appears to be referencing a lie that participants at town-hall meetings and other events were paid, as when he states, “meetings were not always adequately noticed to all stakeholders and instead were filled with advocates organized by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to promote monument designations. It is worth noting that this dynamic is similarly reflected in the public comment process.”
The obvious intent of this language is to try to discredit pro-monument comments by asserting that they are not representing their own views.
Zinke is also wrong when he asserts, ”Proponents tended to promote monument designation as a mechanism to prevent sale or transfer of public lands. This narrative is false and has no basis in fact.”
In fact, the Utah Legislature’s 2012 “Transfer of Public Lands Act” does require transfer of federal public lands to Utah ownership (albeit with no legal basis), and transfer of public lands is also included in the Republican 2016 Platform which further recommends that Congress let state regulators manage energy resources on federally controlled public lands.
Zinke’s memo says that “areas encompassed within GSENM contain an estimated several billion tons of coal and large oil deposits,” which validates the concern that opening national monuments to fossil fuel development is a primary reason for reducing the boundaries.
Zinke tells another blatant lie when he claims that National Monument status is unnecessary because Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) are already protected. In fact, Wilderness Study Areas are under consideration for addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System, but they have not been officially designated as Wilderness Areas and are highly vulnerable to being “undone.” Environmental groups have been fighting for true Wilderness designation for WSAs in Utah since 1982.
All in all, the Zinke memo shows outright contempt for the U.S. public who clearly stand in strong support of national monuments and contempt for the public process which he dismisses because it contradicts a pre-determined outcome.