Ryan Zinke memo signals Trump’s attack on public lands is just getting started

National monuments in Oregon and Nevada targeted.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a memorandum on December 5, 2017, that included recommendations to reduce the size of national monuments in the western United States. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a memorandum on December 5, 2017, that included recommendations to reduce the size of national monuments in the western United States. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

President Donald Trump apparently isn’t done reducing the size of national monuments. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday recommended that Trump target at least eight more monuments for downsizing or reduced protections.

At an event in Salt Lake City on Monday, Trump signed a pair of presidential proclamations drastically reducing the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, as recommended by Zinke. Other national monuments in the Trump administration’s crosshairs include Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon and California, and Gold Butte in Nevada.

Environmental groups and lawmakers condemned Zinke’s recommendations to undo protections for the national monuments. “Yesterday, on Secretary Zinke’s recommendation, President Trump executed the largest removal of protections on public lands in our nation’s history,” Center for Western Priorities Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said in a statement Tuesday. “Today, Secretary is telling him to go further.” The center is a nonprofit conservation and environmental advocacy group based in Denver.

In a memorandum to the president, released by the Department of the Interior on Tuesday, Zinke argued that the designation of national monuments by prior administrations harms communities by restricting traditional uses of the land such as grazing, timber production, mining, hunting, and recreation.

In the memo, Zinke recommended that Trump revise the boundaries of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in a way that’s favorable to commercial timber. He also advised Trump to change the boundary of the Gold Butte National Monument to ensure ranchers are allowed permits to graze livestock on the land.

“As I visited the monuments across this country, I met with Americans on all sides of the issue — from ranchers to conservationists to tribal leaders — and found that we agree on wanting to protect our heritage while still allowing public access to public land,” Zinke said in a statement Tuesday. “My recommendations to the president reflect that, in some circumstances, proclamations should be amended, boundaries revised, and management plans updated.”

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Zinke said the exact reductions of the Cascade-Siskiyou and Gold Butte national monuments are still being determined.

Zinke issued the memorandum in response to an executive order signed by Trump in April aimed at revoking or shrinking more than two dozen national monuments. The Interior Department said the review was “initiated by President Trump in order to restore trust” in the process of monument designation, and to “give local residents and stakeholders a voice.”

But Democrats are signaling they are ready to push back.

“The fight must continue to protect our public lands across the country, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon, from Trump’s and Zinke’s erratic and destructive agenda to restrict access to lands that belong to all Americans in order to benefit large corporations and donors,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said in a statement Monday.

Zinke “is in no position to make a sound judgment on Gold Butte,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) said Tuesday in a statement.

“When he traveled to Nevada in July, he did a few photo ops, made an erroneous argument that Gold Butte was denying water rights to locals, and skipped out on a meeting with other advocates and me,” Titus said. “If he were interested in the will of Nevadans, Zinke would know that Gold Butte’s designation was the product of grassroots advocacy, good-faith negotiations, and the belief that our natural treasures should not be subject to the Trump Administration’s blatant disregard.”

For New Mexico’s Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte, Zinke told reporters that he decided not to change their boundaries, according to the Washington Post.

In response to Trump signing the proclamations on Monday, the Native American Rights Fund — representing the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Zuni Tribe — filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to protect Bears Ears. “The Bears Ears monument as created by President Obama preserved hunting, fishing, gathering and grazing rights, and protected these incredible lands from widespread looting and oil, gas and mineral development,” Native American Rights Fund staff attorney Natalie Landreth said in a statement.

Also on Monday, a coalition of 10 environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Grand Canyon Trust, filed a lawsuit against Trump, Zinke and Bureau of Land Management Director Brian Steed, opposing Trump’s decision to reduce the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The other national monuments cited in Zinke’s memorandum for potential action are the Rose Atoll and Pacific Remote Islands marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument off the coast of Massachusetts.