Today, the public comment period closes for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) new Bears Ears National Monument draft monument management plans. Earlier this year, Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department announced a rushed management planning process to determine the future of Bears Ears after the Trump administration slashed the boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments last December in an unprecedented illegal attack on public land protections.
“Ryan Zinke should wait for the legal challenges to the monument reductions to be heard before rushing to concoct a plan to manage this so-called ‘revised’ national monument. After the unprecedented and unlawful shrinking of two national monuments last year, going forward with business-as-usual is a farce,” said Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger. “Zinke is trying to pull yet another fast one on the American people as he rushes to try to open up this stolen land to corporate special interests.”
On December 4, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order based on Zinke’s recommendation that drastically reduced the size of these two Utah national monuments — the largest elimination of public land protections in American history. The Antiquities Act only authorizes the reduction of designated national monuments through an act of Congress, which President Trump failed to obtain. Conservation groups and tribes have sued the administration, arguing that President Trump didn’t have the authority to reduce the size of the monuments. The case is still pending.
Previous analysis of public documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times found that oil was central in the decision to shrink Bears Ears, despite Zinke’s repeated claims that it was not.
Previous Western Values Project analysis has documented that many of the areas taken out of Bears Ears National Monument are rich in oil, gas and uranium reserves.
Zinke said in a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on January 17th, 2017, that when it comes to creating a national monument under the Antiquities Act, “I view it as absolutely critical to have state and local support on a monument that they are — they participate in…But if you — if you start at the local community level, the grassroots, and you build, and there’s participation, then we get ahead of the problem… part of the planning process is go out, get community support, make sure your governor and your elected leaders are behind you, and then petition — talk to the president who makes a decision, and everyone should be on the same page, or at least about on the same page.”
Notably, San Juan County Utah, where the Bears Ears National Monument is located, recently elected two pro-monument county commissioners to serve on the county commission, which previously been made up of vocal monument opponents. Zinke has yet to address that the new county commission is majority pro-Bears Ears.
As Zinke’s Interior is overseeing the monument planning process for the new monuments, he remains the most scandal-plagued Interior Secretary in recent history: since he started the job 20 months ago, he has been the subject of at least 17 federal investigations, including one referred to the Justice Department for potential criminal activity.