Newsletter Archive

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada                                                                   (Mike Painter)

October 3, 2017

Dear CalUWild friends —

Mid-September saw the leak of a draft memo from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to the president, setting out his thoughts and recommendations on the review of 27 national monuments he had been ordered to undertake in April. Last week, Secty. Zinke stirred up further controversy (see Item 2), so I decided to wait before sending out this edition of the Monthly Update, if there were further news to report.

The discussion of the memo and other happenings at Interior is pretty lengthy and detailed, and there are links to press items dealing with them as well. The “In the Press” section contains some articles updating issues we’ve written about before.

We don’t often comment on issues unrelated to public lands, but it turns out that the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, the draft of which we wrote about in last month’s Update, also contains provisions to loosen restrictions on the sale of silencers for guns and armor-piercing ammunition, in addition to deleterious provisions affecting wilderness and public lands.

Given the horrific killings in Las Vegas two days ago, where policemen said that they were able to locate the gunman’s position quickly from the sound of the shooting, there is an even stronger reason to oppose the bill, though opinions seem to differ on whether the silencer provision would really matter in this case. Here’s an op-ed on the issue in Utah’s Deseret News, published before this last weekend’s events: The SHARE Act shares the potential for more gun violence.

Just before this Update was being sent out, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced that the SHARE Act is not being brought to the House floor any time soon. Regardless, PLEASE, call your Senators and Representatives in Washington to oppose the SHARE Act, H.R. 3668. Early opposition is the best defense.

Thanks for being interested and staying involved!

1. Interior Secty. Ryan Zinke’s National Monuments Memo Leaked—
          Proposes To Modify Ten Monuments
          (ACTION ITEM)
2. Secty. Zinke Causes More Controversy
          With Comments about Interior Department Employees
          And Disclosures over Taxpayer-Funded Travel
3. Brief Federal Legislative Cosponsorship Review
          (ACTION ITEM)

4. Links to Articles and Other Items of Interest


1. Interior Secty. Ryan Zinke’s National Monuments Memo Leaked—
          Proposes To Modify Ten Monuments
          (ACTION ITEM)

After not learning anything about the Interior Department’s plans for the 27 national monuments under review since April, details finally emerged mid-month in the form of a 19-page memo leaked to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. The memo was marked “Draft Deliberative—Not for Distribution.” There has been no formal response from the White House (which was reportedly unhappy with the leak, naturally). The reaction from the press and most other quarters has been almost unanimously strongly negative. (Some examples follow the discussion of the memo.) The scanned memo may be read here.

For all its length and the preparation time involved, the memo was remarkably short on details. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Robert Gehrke characterized it as “read[ing] like a term paper a D-plus high schooler would have slapped together the night before it was due.” It recommended unspecified changes in boundaries for four monuments, changes in use or management for another four, and changes in use and/or boundary changes for an additional two.

The memo acknowledged: “Comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintain existing monuments and demonstrated a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations.”

Nowhere did the memo say that there would be no further recommendations forthcoming regarding other monuments, nor did it mention anywhere the six that had been completely “cleared” previously. Again, the memo was labeled “Draft,” so we cannot treat this as the final word on anything.

However, in total, the memo signals the largest-ever reduction in public lands protection, and if the administration or Congress makes changes to any monuments, it would open a Pandora’s Box.

Therefore, the critical message remains: An attack on one monument is an attack on all.

We’ll repeat our action call from last month: The best thing to do is to inundate the White House and Congress with comments supporting leaving the national monuments as they are—no changes!

White House Online comment page here.
Comments by phone: 202-456-1111
By U.S. Mail:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Follow the links here for contact information for the Senate and here for the House.

Memo Details
The four monuments recommended for unspecified boundary changes are:

Bears Ears (Utah)
Cascade-Siskiyou (California & Oregon)
Gold Butte (Nevada)
Grand Staircase-Escalante (Utah)

The four monuments recommended for use or management changes are:

Katahdin Woods & Waters (Maine)
Northeast Canyon & Seamounts (North Atlantic)
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (New Mexico)
Rio Grade Del Norte (New Mexico)

The monuments with proposed management and/or boundary changes are:

Pacific Remote Islands
Rose Atoll (Pacific)

Mr. Zinke wrote many of the same objections for most of the monuments in the review. The most frequent misstatements, with respective rebuttals were:

MEMO: The proclamation should be amended, … or The boundary should be revised through the use of appropriate authority, including lawful exercise of the President’s discretion granted by the [Antiquities] Act …

FACT: These statements shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how presidential proclamations work—once published, they can’t be subsequently “amended.” Most scholars believe that the president has no discretion to reduce boundaries; only Congress has that power, as stated in the Federal Lands Policy & Management Act of 1976.

MEMO: The proclamation should be amended…to protect objects and prioritize…hunting and fishing rights.

FACT: Every proclamation states clearly the objects of interest to be protected and that that the particular designation does nothing to change the individual states’ management of wildlife. (States generally set their own hunting and fishing regulations; these aren’t matters of federal jurisdiction.)

MEMO: The management plan should be revised to continue to protect objects and prioritize public access…; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.

FACT: Most of these monuments were designated so recently that they have no management plans. Regardless, their respective proclamations already protect these things explicitly, so there is no need to revise anything.

Space doesn’t permit listing every problem or inconsistency regarding the specific monuments in the review, so I’ll just mention a few of the more blatant ones.

Bears Ears (Utah)

MEMO: [T]here is evidence that an unintended consequence of monument designation is an increased threat of damage or looting of objects due to higher visitation.

FACT: There is no evidence in the memo that there is in fact a connection. Looting has been going on for many, many years in the region. This is what led to the passage of the Antiquities Act of 1906 in the first place.

MEMO: The boundary should be revised … to … ensure the size is conducive to effective protection of the objects.

There are many thousands of known archaeological sites in the Bears Ears monument, and many more have likely not been discovered yet. Shrinking the boundaries would leave many unprotected. (In fact, the designated monument was only about 2/3 the size proposed by the Inter-Tribal Coalition.)

Grand Staircase-Escalante (Utah)

MEMO: The boundary should be revised …

FACT: Congress already slightly modified the boundaries as part of a huge 1998 land exchange bill, wherein all the state school trust lands within the monument were exchanged for other lands in the state. Those lands reportedly have returned hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to the state’s schools. The federal government also paid Utah $50 million as part of the deal and paid the Andalex coal company an additional $14 million.

MEMO: [T]he actual amount[sic] of cattle runs has decreased due to restrictions on activities that facilitate grazing, including moving water lines, vegetative management, erosion control measures, and maintenance of infrastructure such as fences and roads.

FACT: This is misleading, as the number of cattle grazing now is substantially the same as when the monument was designated in 1986.

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (New Mexico)

MEMO: [O]ne part … abuts the U.S.-Mexico border. Border security is a concern resulting from the designation.

FACT: The monument’s boundary was specifically drawn 5 miles north of the border, and on the north side of a state highway, to boot, precisely in order not to interfere with border enforcement. The Border Patrol has stated that there has been no interference with its operations, nor has it noticed any increase in unusual activity in the area.

MEMO: Legislation introduced in the 116th Congress would designate parts of the current boundaries … as wilderness and release other areas

FACT: First, the current Congress is the 115th, not the 116th. Secondly, in a preliminary report, Mr. Zinke said that one thing he wanted to investigate was how wilderness designation affected monument designation. He should know that wilderness is an overlay on any land management category and has absolutely no bearing on whether an area is designated a monument or not.

Rio Grade Del Norte (New Mexico)

MEMO: [R]oad closures due to monument restrictions have left many grazing permittees choosing not to renew permits.

FACT: No one has been able to find a single road that’s been closed.

When New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) asked a BLM official about some of these errors at a Senate hearing, the official replied that BLM wasn’t asked to check any of the facts in the memo and the agency had little input overall. You may see a clip of that Q&A here.

Gold Butte (Nevada)

MEMO: The boundary should be revised…to protect historic water rights.

FACT: The proclamation states that “the monument is subject to valid existing rights, including valid existing water rights.”

Cascade-Siskiyou (Oregon & California)

MEMO: Motorized transportation was prohibited in the original CSNM designation.

FACT: The original proclamation allowed motorized us on existing roads, though off-road use was prohibited.

The list goes on and on, and it makes one wonder how and by whom this report was assembled and written.

Press Reaction (news articles and op-eds)

In the Los Angeles Times: Trump may strip protections from 10 national monuments

In The Guardian:

More national monuments should be opened for exploitation, Zinke says

Bears Ears is sacred to Native Americans. But heritage isn’t all equal for Trump

An op-ed in the Deseret News: Why does our country keep erasing history?

An op-ed in the Durango Herald: Zinke’s monument review betrays Roosevelt’s legacy

A story from the Associated Press: US Interior chief wants smaller monuments, but not at home, pointing out that Montana’s Upper Missouri Breaks was spared in the review, and Secty. Zinke actually proposed a new monument for his home state. There is speculation that Mr. Zinke may run for a U.S. Senate seat from Montana.

The Conservation for Economic Growth Coalition, a group of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs wrote a letter to Secty. Zinke, concluding with these words: Simply put, your recommendations to remove protections for our national monuments and the uncertainty created by those recommendations are bad for business. We urge the Administration to end the review process and announce as soon as possible that no public lands will lose their protection.

This long op-ed in Mountain Journal is well worth reading for the clarity with which it sets out the relevant issues. The Lords Of Yesterday Are Back And They Want America’s Public Land: Barry Reiswig—A Backcountry Horseman, Hunter, Angler and Civil Servant —Pushes Back Against “The Radical Agenda” of Ryan Zinke

2. Secty. Zinke Causes More Controversy
          With Comments about Interior Department Employees
          And Disclosures over Taxpayer-Funded Travel

In a speech last week to the National Petroleum Council, a federal advisory board, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made the claim that almost one-third of the Department’s employees were not loyal to the administration. He based this on their perceived opposition to increasing leasing for oil, gas, and coal on public lands. “I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag,” Mr. Zinke was quoted as saying. (He is using military jargon by referring to “the flag.” He’s referring to the president.)

Negative reaction to his comments was swift, as exemplified by this letter to the editor in the Washington Post: The civil service pledges loyalty to the Constitution, not the president and an op-ed in the Post yesterday.

Mr. Zinke was already under fire because of his efforts to reorganize staffing at the Interior Department. He had previously announced plans to cut nearly 4,000 employees and had reassigned 50 members of the Senior Executive Service (SES)—a classification of high-level employees who can take on important positions as needed in the Department. One of those SES employees was the director of the Office of Policy Analysis, who was advising Native Alaskan communities on climate change. He was abruptly transferred to an accounting position, for which he had no expertise. (You can read his account in an op-ed he wrote in the Washington Post.) The Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has initiated an investigation into whether these reassignments were retaliatory and whether they complied with proper notice and other regulatory requirements.

Yet another OIG investigation into Mr. Zinke was begun this week, after news broke that he had billed taxpayers $12,000 to charter a flight from Las Vegas to Montana. He was giving speeches in both places, and he claimed that commercial flight schedules didn’t accommodate the two events.

The problem is that the Las Vegas event was not an official speech, but rather a political one, given to a sports team owned by one of his major contributors. If he had not been speaking there, he could have taken a commercial flight and arrived in time for the speech to the Western Governors’ Association, meeting in Whitefish, Montana. The OIG will also look at other questionable travel arrangements that Mr. Zinke has made.

Travel expenses are a recurring problem for Secty. Zinke, who ran into trouble in the military as a SEAL for charging personal travel expenses to the military. Mr. Zinke dismissed the current flap as “a little BS over travel.”

The travel issue is currently a sensitive one for the administration, and at least three other cabinet secretaries are under fire for travel expenses. One of them, Tom Price at Health & Human Services, resigned last week in the wake of the controversy.

3. Brief Federal Legislative Cosponsorship Review
          (ACTION ITEM)

Since our last Update, California Rep. Ted Lieu (D-33) has signed on as a cosponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (H.R. 2044). Please call his office to say “Thank You.”

DC Office: 202-225-3976

Another important priority is the reauthorization of the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) is the Ranking Member (senior Democrat) on the House Natural Resources Committee. He has introduced a bill, H.R. 502, to permanently reauthorize the LWCF.

Unfortunately, not a single Republican member of California’s House delegation has signed on as cosponsor, though there are 24 GOP cosponsors nationwide, out of 197 total. All of California’s Democratic representatives except two are currently cosponsors of the bill: Karen Bass (D-37) and Juan Vargas (D-51). Both were cosponsors in the last Congress, and both have signed on to LWCF Appropriations letters in each of the past four years. It shouldn’t take much to get them signed on again.

Neither is a cosponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

Please call their offices and ask them to cosponsor both H.R. 502, the Land & Conservation Act Reauthorization bill and H.R. 2044, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

Rep. Karen Bass DC Office: 202-225-7084

Rep. Juan Vargas DC Office: 202-225-8045

4. Links to Articles and Other Items of Interest

New York Times articles

The Interior Department seems to have an incessant need to review everything undertaken by the Obama Administration. The sage grouse plan was the end result of a concerted effort among many interested parties and was specifically designed to keep the bird from being listed under the Endangered Species Act. It’s unlikely that this administration wants to see that happen, unless they also gut the requirements of the Act. Interior Department to Overhaul Obama’s Sage Grouse Protection Plan

Traditions Revived at a Tribal Culture Camp

The Mind of John McPhee: A deeply private writer reveals his obsessive process.

National Parks Struggle With a Mounting Crisis: Too Many Visitors

Related to the overcrowding article: A new organization forms, Hikers for an 8th Leave No Trace Principle

An article in High Country News: Sally Jewell defends Interior Department legacy

An article in the Washington Post: The National Park Service showed that its bottled water ban worked — then lifted it

An article in Pacific Standard: The Oil and Gas Industry’s Latest Scheme Would All But Privatize Public Lands

An article in the Albuquerque Journal: Archaeologists: More protections needed for Chaco region

An article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: Ranchers criticize Southern Nevada water agency’s pipeline plan. We’ve written about this water grab before in March 2012, August 2012, and June 2013

An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: What the Trump administration doesn’t understand about wildfires

As always, if you ever have questions, suggestions, critiques, or wish to change your e-mail address or unsubscribe, all you have to do is send an email. For information on making a contribution to CalUWild, click here.

Please “Like” and “Follow” CalUWild on Facebook.