Ryan Zinke Already Acting Against Roosevelt Legacy in Utah. Is Montana Next?

In just a few months as Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke has been busy turning the agency from one designed to protect and manage federal lands into one focused on the extraction of resources. The first target? Utah’s Bears Ears Monument, where it seems he is already planning to rescind the monument designation. As E&E Greenwire reports:

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told local Utah officials earlier this month that he will recommend rescinding Bears Ears National Monument and vowed to review public lands management more broadly, according to San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman.

HuffPost quotes Lyman, who told him Zinke wants to rescind the designation:

“We got a chance to visit with [Zinke] in his office, and our message was that we’d like to see Bears Ears National Monument rescinded,” Lyman reportedly told E&E. “He said, ‘Well, let me tell you what I’m thinking: Not only should that monument be rescinded, but we’re not going to stop there. We need to discuss all the dysfunctionality of public land management over the last three decades.'”

In a move that was anything but surprising to those of us who follow Montana politics, Zinke immediately attacked the messenger, sending out his spokesperson to refute the story. From Huffpost again:

Shortly after the story published was, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said on Twitter that such reports were “not accurate.””The Secretary is listening to and talking with advocates on all sides of the issue in Utah,” Swift wrote in a statement. “He has not yet reached a decision.”

Unfortunately, the claim that Zinke has been listening to all voices is contradicted by the facts. The Washington Post notes that Zinke has been making time for industry leaders and those in extraction industries, but little time for anyone else. They write:

The schedules, which cover March and April, detail a slew of meetings with oil and gas producers as well as officials representing gun owners, marine industries, automobile dealers and builders. Zinke, who was confirmed by the Senate on March 1, also met with representatives of the Navajo Nation and Montana’s Little Shell Tribe, as well as numerous lawmakers and officials from a range of states and U.S. territories. Zinke held more than a half-dozen meetings with executives from nearly two dozen oil and gas firms during the period, including BP America, Chevron and ExxonMobil. He also spent time with the American Petroleum Institute, the Western Energy Alliance and Continental Resources chief executive Harold Hamm.

In Utah, Zinke made almost no time for Native groups interesting in protecting the monument, giving tribal leaders “only an hour with him after months of unanswered requests.” He did, however, have time to lose his cool and snap at a tribal liaison who simply tried to get an answer from the Secretary about why he wasn’t willing to meet with tribal leaders.

The National Resources Defense Council expanded on this failure to listen to all stakeholders, noting that Zinke gave environmental leaders only thirty minutes, refused to hold public meetings, and spent his time with fossil fuel execs:

Though he had indicated that he wanted to hear all sides and consider all viewpoints, the vast majority of Zinke’s interactions were with those who support rescinding monument status for these 1.3 million acres. Unlike his predecessors, Zinke did not hold any public meetings over the course of his four-day trip, choosing instead to spend most of his time with politicians and fossil fuel executives. The interior secretary reportedly spent fewer than 30 minutes with area environmental groups concerned about the physical exploitation of Bears Ears, and only an hour listening to local tribal leaders who are worried about its desecration.

Much like during his time in Congress, Secretary Zinke seems far more interested in self-promotion and doing the work of extraction companies than protecting the public lands he pretends to care about. The decision to rescind designation for Bears Ears would be an unprecedented move, as since the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906, “no president has ever revoked a site’s status.” Given Zinke’s repeated assertion that he considers himself to be a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” it would also represent a fundamental betrayal of the legacy of the former President and the value he placed preserving significant parcels of land from exploitation and development.

And such a move threatens monuments here in Montana. As the Montana Wilderness Association wrote in April, the actions taken by President Trump and Secretary Zinke “could end up crippling or even destroying the Antiquities Act, an essential component of America’s public lands heritage,” including the Upper Missouri Breaks.

Congressman Zinke wants us to believe, despite the evidence, that he’s willing to listen to the public when it comes to these monuments. Let’s put that to the test. Zinke can be reached at his D.C. office at 202.208.7351, via e-mail at exsec@ios.doi.gov or on Facebook. Let’s remind him that Teddy Roosevelt knew and the vast majority of Montanans know that protecting public lands for future generations is one of the most important functions of government. Let’s make sure that our children and their children can see these magnificent places for generations to come.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • I think its great, we the small miners would like to have the chance to explore and do small mining and pay royalties to the goverment. This would make thousands of jobs.

    • There have to be places where “small miners” can “explore and do small mining and pay royalties to the government” besides national monuments.

  • What do you mine? Where do mine? Where do you live?

    Problem is that we all have a say in public lands, and mining is not appropriate everywhere. That has already been decided. You had your chance to provide your input. If you didn’t testify, that’s your fault. We don’t need a do over for you.

    We had lots of public meetings here.

  • There are no “royalties” on metallic minerals mined from federal lands. Coal and petroleum pay 12.5% royalty. Rep. Nick Rahall of WVa tried to get a mining royalties Bill passed years ago, but it didn’t take. Miners pay income taxes on any net profits they realise. Some mines operate on such tight margins that a flat royalty might stop the enterprise. Trouble is, these days, the only big operators are foreign mining companies, and they are usually not trustworthy, and will walk away from reclamation obligations.

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