Interior Department Assault On National Monuments

By David Wiggins, Conservation Co-Chair

On March 2, 2017, newly sworn Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke rode a National Park Service police horse through Washington DC to his first day of work. He was greeted at the door by 350 federal employees with fanfare on drums played by a member of the Cheyenne Indian tribe.

Two days earlier, Zinke had pledged that, as Interior Secretary, he would uphold the legacy of America’s first great conservation President, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt believed our public lands are treasures for the benefit and enjoyment of all. Invoking that spirit, Zinke said he would “work tirelessly to ensure our public lands are managed and preserved in a way that benefits all Americans for generations to come.”   Many hoped that Zinke would actually live up to his promise and serve as a voice for sensible stewardship of America’s public lands.

But a year in office has shown how hollow and cynical his promise actually was. Rather than serve as steward of the nation’s public lands, Zinke has steadily groomed the Interior Department to serve as the foot-servant of coal, oil and gas industries. On President Trump’s order in April, he began the process of reopening the nation’s coastal waters to new offshore drilling. He has directed the Department to streamline processing of oil and gas lease applications on federal lands, sweeping aside protective regulations. He is also seeking to modify the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan to open up more protected habitat to development.

And in December, Trump issued an order following Zinke’s recommendation to drastically downsize two spectacular national monuments in Utah: Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Bears Ears. If Trump and Zinke get their way, Staircase will be reduced by almost half, and Bears Ears will be shrunk by over 80%, exposing the formerly protected lands to mining and drilling. Further reductions are apparently planned for other monuments in Nevada, Oregon and the South Pacific.

I’ve argued that the Administration lacks Constitutional authority to reduce national monuments. We’ll find out in due course, since a coalition of Native American tribes and conservation groups, including the Sierra Club, has filed suits in the DC federal court challenging the Presidential order. Much hangs in the balance, so please follow the lawsuit’s progress, and support the litigants with money if you can.

Here’s a link to a pdf of the conservation groups’ complaint:


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