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Confused about Zinke’s National Monuments review? You’re not alone.


An aerial view of Black Ridge, the northern boundary of the Gold Butte national Monument, and the Virgin River

Public lands insiders nationwide were anxiously anticipating U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s final report on his national monuments review this week. What they got was news that the secretary had sent his report to President Donald Trump — but no specifics from the report itself.

In April, Trump ordered Zinke to review all national monuments of more than 100,000 acres established since 1996 to make sure that they conform to the Antiquities Act’s guidelines for inclusion, and that the affected communities were given sufficient say in the process. Of the 27 monuments fitting the criteria for review, two are in Nevada: the 700,000-acre Basin and Range in Lincoln and Nye counties, created by President Barack Obama in July 2015, and the nearly 300,000-acre Gold Butte in northeastern Clark County, also created by Obama, in December 2016.

Trump gave Zinke 120 days to make his final recommendations, and the interior secretary, touting the organizational skills and punctuality that he learned as a Navy Seal, frequently said during the process that he was on track to get his report in on time. He appears to have lived up to that promise, but what came out Thursday, August 24, disappointed many of those who’d marked the date on their calendars.

The Interior Department widely distributed a press release announcing that Zinke’s report was in the president’s hands and linking to a summary of the report, but neither one contained any details about the actual recommendations for action to be taken, if any, on the monuments being reviewed. Instead, it reiterated the assignment outlined in Trump’s executive order, the methodology of Zinke’s review, and concerns that he uncovered during the process, such as failures to adhere to the Antiquities Act’s definition of objects worth preserving and the requirement that boundaries encompass the smallest area compatible with preservation.

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“Despite the apparent lack of adherence to the purpose of the Act,” the summary reads, “some monuments reflect a long public debate process and are largely settled and strongly supported by the local community. Other monuments remain controversial and contain significant private property within the identified external boundary or overlap with other Federal land designations such as national forests, Wilderness Study Areas, and lands specifically set aside by Congress for timber production.”

The only journalists who seem to have spoken directly with Zinke were from the Associated Press, which reported that the interior secretary does not plan to rescind any of the 27 monuments on the review list, but that he would “press for some boundary changes and left open the possibility of allowing drilling, mining, or other industries on the sites.” Citing information from White House aides who’d been briefed on Zinke’s report, both the New York Times and Washington Post wrote that the secretary advocated for reducing the size of some monuments, including two in Utah — Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears — and one in Oregon, Cascade-Siskiyou. In previous announcements, the secretary had already said he would not alter several monuments, including Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, and Snow Mountain in California.

Still, the fate of Basin and Range and Gold Butte national monuments in Nevada is unclear. Congressional representatives Ruben Kihuen and Dina Titus expressed frustration with Zinke’s “lack of transparency.”

Jaina Moan, executive director of Friends of Gold Butte, says, “This just contributes to the confusion and uncertainty that we’ve felt throughout this process.” News reports that no monuments will be rescinded and only a handful will be modified are cold comfort in the absence of details from Zinke’s office, Moan adds.

The president may not have the authority to rescind national monuments anyway, noted Zinke’s predecessor, Sally Jewell, on NPR’s morning edition. The former interior secretary also said that modifications to monuments would have to go through Congress.

Zinke’s office did not reply to Desert Companion’s inquiry seeking further details about the review.

(Desert Companion staff writer, whose story about Nevada’s national monuments will appear in the September issue, also talked with KNPR’s State of Nevada about the Zinke review.)