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Monuments In Limbo As Zinke Cuts Visit Short

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Heidi Kyser

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held a press conference about national monuments in Bunkerville, Nev. Sunday, July 30.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke touched down in the Silver State this week, for a much-anticipated visit of two national monuments. 

President Donald Trump sent Zinke on a mission to review the national monuments designated by presidential decree over the last 21 years that are greater than 100,000 acres. In Nevada, that includes Basin and Range and Gold Butte National Monuments. 

Zinke was supposed to tour the monuments and meet with stakeholders over Sunday and Monday, but he had to cut his visit short to attend a cabinet meeting with the president's new chief of staff. He returned to Washington, D.C., following a press conference Sunday evening.

Many monument advocates felt shortchanged by the move, and it sparked a lot of questions about the future for two of Nevada's vast national monuments.

"Myself and all the people who were going to be part of this roundtable on Monday were extremely disappointed and honestly quite frustrated," Terry Rylander, vice chair of Friends of Gold Butte, told KNPR's State of Nevada. 

Rylander was also frustrated because Zinke knew he had to return to Washington on Friday night, but didn't invite people from the now-canceled roundtable to go on his site visit, which she felt would have been a compromise.

Heidi Kyser, staff writer for Desert Companion Magazine, which is published by Nevada Public Radio, was at the news conference Sec. Zinke held Sunday evening. She said the Friends of Gold Butte weren't the only people with interest in his decision that the secretary didn't meet with. 

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"He didn't meet with many of the people he said he was going to, including people who oppose the (monument) like Carol Bundy, the local city councils, and governments," she said, "There were quite a few people who had meetings scheduled with him who he did not see."

Zinke did express some of his concerns about the two monuments during the news conference in Bunkerville. Kyser told KNPR's State of Nevada that some the secretary's biggest concerns about the monuments were their lack of infrastructure, such as roads, parking lots and bathrooms, as well as their size.

"He was probably referring to Basin and Range, which is 700,000 acres," she said. 

The size of that monument is also one of the biggest concerns of the people who opposed its designation. One of those opponents is Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen.

"What we see is 700,000 acres to protect 200 acres of private property," Schinhofen said. 

The 200 acres the commissioner is referring to is the land where Michael Heizer's art project "City" now sits. Schinhofen said both the Nye County Commission and the Lincoln County Commission voted against designating the land as a national monument.

"This was stuffed down our throats basically," Schinhofen said.

Kyser pointed out that people supporting Basin and Range weren't just trying to protect "City." They are very concerned about the many areas of cultural significance within the monument's boundaries, including ancient petroglyphs scattered throughout the 700,000 acres. They're also worried about the area being available to resource extraction and exploration. 

Schinhofen doesn't see a problem with protecting those pockets of ancient artifacts but doesn't see a need for all of the acreage to be included.

Plus, Schinhofen sees another reason for the area to be designated as a national monument: stopping a nuclear waste repository from being built at Yucca Mountain. Under plans for that waste repository, a rail line would have been built through what is now the Basin and Range National Monument. The designation would prohibit that if plans for the site move forward. However, both sides of that issue admit there are other ways to get the waste to Yucca Mountain if it is ever built. 

"Maybe that was Harry Reid's last gasp at trying to kill it, but it's still the law," Schinhofen said. 

Zinke's recommendations on what to do with the monuments is due to the President in late August. 

 

Guests

Terri Rylander, vice chair, Friends of Gold Butte; Dan Schinhofen, Nye County Commission Chair; Heidi Kyser, writer, Desert Companion Magazine