Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is visiting two national monuments in Utah this week ahead of the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind or shrink 27 of America’s national monuments.
Zinke met with leaders of the Bear Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition on Sunday afternoon who played an integral role convincing Pres. Obama to designate the Bears Ears as a national monument. Earlier that morning, he met with Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, all of whom oppose the Bears Ears National Monument and are asking the Trump administration to rescind it, and reduce the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half.
“Some of the monuments are, I don’t want to say universally but certainly widely, supported and accepted,” Zinke said Sunday. “The Bears Ears is not widely supported in the state of Utah.”
During a press conference Sunday, Zinke told reporters that he will conduct his tour of the monuments “without any predisposition of outcome.”
Tribal leaders who pushed for the monument said they’ll sue to preserve Bears Ears monument designation, if the Trump administration rescinds it.
On Monday, Zinke, joined by an entourage of anti-monument politicians, flew over Bear Ears in three Army Black Hawk Helicopters and later hiked to Butler Wash, a popular destination inside the monument that overlooks cliff dwellings built by native Americans more than a thousand years ago.
Some of Zinke’s actions, such as touring with a group of anti-monument politicians, has caused many monument supporters to feel like they’re being excluded from the conversation.
Zinke continued his tour Tuesday, riding a horse through the two buttes from which Bears Ears takes its name.
On Wednesday, May 10, Zinke is scheduled to conclude his tour with a visit to the southern border of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Among those planning to attend Zinke’s meeting Wednesday is David Rankin, who has spent most of his life exploring the Grand Staircase-Escalante in search of dinosaur bones.
“I would encourage Secretary Zinke not to reduce the size of the Grand Staircase,” he said. “In some ways what we’re finding in the Grand Staircase is re-writing the science about what was occurring during the Cretaceous period when dinosaurs ruled this land.”
One of the reasons cited by the Trump administration for wanting to shrink the Grand Staircase is that it would make available one of the largest coal deposits in North America. Rankin believes mining would destroy a lot of valuable paleontological information.
“Those coal deposits interface directly with the dinosaur deposits,” Rankin said. “People also like the Grand Staircase because it’s some of the most remote protected wilderness left in the country. I think it would be a shame if that changed.”
A recent poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates found that a small majority of Utahns support reducing the acreage in Bears Ears or eliminating it altogether. A similarly slim majority also say that Pres. Trump should leave the Grand Staircase as it is.
Pres. Trump is expected to decide by June 10 if he will recommend reducing 27 national monuments.
As part of his listening tour, Zinke will visit the Grand Staircase’s southern border Wednesday, May 10, at the turn-off to the Paria Townsite on U.S. 89, about 40 miles west of Page at 4:30 p.m. Arizona time.