Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) said Tuesday that he hopes Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will “get his facts straight” on how the federal government manages public lands before President Donald Trump acts on the secretary’s recommendations to shrink and modify several national monuments.
At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Heinrich said his constituents are “incredibly upset” that the future of the national monuments in New Mexico could be determined by a report that contains numerous errors.
“I was incredibly concerned in reading the report summary on the two monuments in New Mexico to note that there were more than a few simple factual errors included,” Heinrich said during an exchange with John Ruhs, acting deputy director of operations at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of the Interior Department.
In his draft report to the White House, submitted in August but only recently made public, Zinke recommended that Trump shrink the size of at least four national monuments in the West and modify at least 10 other national monuments, including two monuments in New Mexico.
The Interior Department’s report says road closures at the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument in New Mexico “have left many grazing permittees choosing not to renew permits.” Heinrich said he checked with the BLM and learned that any claim that roads have been closed inside Rio Grande Del Norte are “not accurate” and that statements suggesting ranchers have stopped operating inside the national monument are “also not true.”
Established by President Barack Obama in 2013, the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument consists of about 242,455 acres in Taos County, New Mexico.
Trump signed an executive order in April directing the Interior Department to review two decades’ worth of national monument designations in an effort to decide whether to rescind, modify, or maintain their designations. The review encompassed 21 monuments, mostly located in the Western United States.
Public lands advocates criticized the Interior Department for the lack of transparency surrounding the review of the national monuments. Many groups that were consulted during the initial creation of national monuments were left out of Zinke’s review, despite requesting meetings. Records reportedly show that Zinke spent more time meeting with oil company officials than with Native American groups when reviewing the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
The final report sent to Trump still has not been released to the public; a copy was leaked to the Washington Post earlier this week.
Elsewhere in the report, the Interior Department states that one part of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument “abuts the U.S.-Mexico border.” According to the report, border security “is a concern resulting from the designation, as the proclamation restricts motorized transportation close to the border.”
Once again, Heinrich noted that this statement is not true “because on the recommendation of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the boundary of the monument was actually established five miles north of the international border.”
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument, established by Obama in 2014, consists of 496,330 acres in Dona Ana County, New Mexico.
The report states that both national monument designations need to be amended to protect hunting and fishing rights. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Heinrich, who told the committee he has hunted quail in the Organ Mountain-Deserts Peaks National Monuments. Peterson’s Hunting magazine last month listed the monument as the one of the “top 10 public lands destinations hunts in the nation for quail,” the senator said.
Elsewhere in the report, the Interior Department states that motorized transportation is prohibited in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, a monument created by President Bill Clinton in 2000 consisting of 65,000 acres in Oregon and California. Obama issued a proclamation in January expanding the monument by almost 48,000 acres.
Dave Willis, chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, told the Associated Press that, contrary to the report, there are “hundreds of roads inside this monument.” Willis also noted that the report refers to protecting hunting and fishing rights, even though those activities are already allowed in national monuments.
Ruhs told Heinrich that his office provided information requested by the team that prepared the national monuments report. But Ruhs said his office was not involved in drafting the national monuments report, nor was it asked to fact-check the report before Zinke sent it to Trump. “I’m sure there would be an opportunity to fix those,” he said about the errors.
“I look forward to putting together a fact sheet that is more consistent with the conditions on the ground. I’ll be happy to share that with you so that you can take it back to the secretary,” Heinrich responded.