Wasatch Environmental Update; Secretary Zinke Wades into Deep Waters

Wasatch Environmental Update for June 18, 2017

By John Worlock, Member of the Board of Directors of Save Our Canyons

“Secretary Zinke Wades into Deep Waters”


Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, has just released an interim report on his recent review of the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument.  This report is one piece of his response to the president’s instruction to review and evaluate all National Monuments created since January of 1996.

Secretary Zinke has indicated that his suggestions are tentative, but they are nevertheless energizing to those who advocated, successfully, the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument.  Those advocates include Native Americans as well as environmental groups and the outdoor recreation industry associations.

We believe that Zinke and his president are wading into deep and dangerous waters.  These waters are alive with sharks and barracudas and lawyers and federal courts, who will be in full attack mode once the recommendations become formal.  Their attacks will shed a lot of figurative blood, and the administration’s defense will consume a lot of real resources.

The secretary will recommend removing many of the 1.35 million acres from the monument.  These changes will be challenged on constitutional and archaeological and environmental grounds.

First, it is not clear that the president has the power to amend the proclamation that created Bears Ears under the 1906 Antiquities Act.  Second, it will be argued that the proposed reduction in acreage will leave many important archaeological sites unprotected.  And third, environmental and conservation-minded groups will ally with recreationists to argue that much of the wilderness-quality land should be protected from commercial development.

Zinke indicates that the Native Americans will be invited more deeply into the management of the modified monument, which is surely a move to blunt the expected attack from the five-nation collaboration that fruitfully campaigned for the Bears Ears National Monument.  Zinke also wants Congress to have a hand in protecting some areas of the current monument.  We recall that Congressman Rob Bishop spent many years organizing his Public Land Initiative, covering much of the same territory.  That went nowhere, and its failure was one of the motivations for presidential creation of the Bears Ears National Monument.

Looking forward, then, we foresee many years of strident pro and con surrounding those Bears Ears.  This exercise will surely strengthen the forces opposing modification of the monument.                   Thank you, Secretary Zinke!

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