Zinke questions using monument status to save sacred land

He said the Bears ears area is public land, and will still be public land if the National Monument designation is eventually erased by the Trump Administration.

Zinke's hour-long meeting Sunday with the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition came as the Interior secretary kicked off a four-day tour in Utah.

"We are concerned and anxious that he's not listening to the tribes", said Cassandra Begay, who serves as the tribal liaison on the board of the Salt Lake City-based Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialogue & Organizing Support.

KANAB, Utah — U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will visit a sweeping southern Utah monument that's been a source of ire for local officials and Republican leaders for two decades. Written comments relating to the Bears Ears National Monument must be submitted within 15 days of publication of that notice.

Outside, about 500 protesters carrying signs changed "Save our monuments, stand with Bears Ears".

Secretary Zinke said he was on a fact-finding mission and that there is no predetermined outcome of the investigation.

"A lot of the anger is that local communities and states don't feel like they have a voice".

The 27 national monuments now being reviewed by the Interior Department are primarily located on 22 different parcels of federal land in western states as well as five marine monuments located in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Hill reports. President Trump has said states should be able to decide what to do with those lands-including leasing them for oil and gas drilling. "Public lands such as the new Browns Canyon National Monument preserve incredible outdoor opportunities to hunt, fish, hike, bike, camp and float - and they're strongly supported by local communities, who understand that these lands offer one of the best new, sustainable ways to grow their local economies".

Zinke flew into the Blanding Airport with a contingent of elected and federal agency officials, including Utah Governor Gary Herbert, Congressman Rob Bishop, and a host of state and local elected officials. It ensures "the protection of Indian sacred sites and traditional cultural properties in the monument and provide access by members of Indian tribes for traditional cultural and customary uses... including collection of medicines, berries and other vegetation, forest products, and firewood for personal noncommercial".

"In Blanding, with a population of 3,400 people, two large banners read, "#RescindBearsEars", reflecting the popular sentiment among residents.

One of Trump's executive orders directs the Interior Department to give a second look to all land monuments that cover more than 100,000 acres and were established since January 1, 1996.

Conservation groups contend that the monument review puts in limbo protections on areas that are home to ancient cliff dwellings, towering Sequoias, deep canyons and ocean habitats where seals, whales and sea turtles roam.

Begay later faced off with Zinke as she shouted questions at the secretary about whether he planned to meet again with the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.

He said the primary focus of President Trump is on overturning the Bears Ears Monument in Utah, which is opposed by Utah Republican Sens. "Part of being a good steward is being a good neighbor and listening to the American people who we represent". Even the Utah Office of Tourism cites the monument as one of its "most visited parks" and boasts about its vast size and "phenomenal" allure.

The president went on to call the designation of the 27 national monuments a "massive federal land grab" by former President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. They hope to persuade the administration to reverse the decision or at least downsize the 1.3 million acre (5,300 square kilometers) monument.

Zinke has been tasked with making a recommendation on the Bears Ears monument by June 10, about 2½ months before a final report about all the monuments.

Environmental groups have vowed to file lawsuits if Trump attempts to rescind monuments - a move that would be unprecedented.

The land-controls have "gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we're going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place", Trump said at a signing ceremony marking the executive order.

"I want to make sure everyone's voices are heard", said Zinke, who is eighth in line to the presidency.

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