Zinke in the Hot Seat Over Trump’s Move to Rescind National Monuments

President Trump has been burning up the ink issuing executive orders since he can’t seem to get anything through Congress. In one of his latest, he has directed the Department of Interior to review all national monument designations made since 1996 to determine if they should be “rescinded, modified or resized.” No president has ever removed national monuments designated by previous presidents, nor does the Antiquities Act provide authority to do so. But Trump’s unprecedented order puts Montana’s Ryan Zinke, now secretary of the Interior, in a very hot seat indeed.

Zinke grew up in Whitefish with Glacier National Park as his backyard. After receiving the directive from Trump, he told the Guardian’s reporters that “no one loves our public lands more than me. I’m a lifetime supporter and admirer of Teddy Roosevelt and the president is the same.” While that sounds good, it’s very troubling that Zinke went on to add: “This executive order is long overdue.”

Surely Secretary Zinke understands that it was Teddy Roosevelt who signed the Antiquities Act of 1906 into law and designated Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, the Petrified Forest in Arizona and 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon as national monuments.

Yet, Trump called the national monuments a “massive federal land grab… and it’s 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.”

That doesn’t sound like Teddy Roosevelt, who actually said: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets that it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.” As for “freeing it up” one has to wonder for whom Trump plans on freeing it – and to what purposes it would be put once “freed.”

Zinke’s concern, as told to the Guardian’s reporters, is that: “In some cases national monuments have resulted in the loss of jobs, reduced wages and loss of public access. We feel the public, the people the monuments affect, should be considered and given a meaningful voice.” Perhaps Zinke has forgotten that his beloved Glacier National Park would never exist had it been up to local residents, who were totally opposed to its creation.

Yet, thanks in no small part to Utah’s nutty congressional delegation, Obama’s designation of the Bear’s Ears National Monument has been painted as some kind of supreme travesty because it impacted some local residents. Mind you, many of these locals, as has been exhaustively documented by the misadventures of the Bundy clan, not only view, use and abuse federal land as their own, but the Bundys in particular refused to pay over a million bucks they owe on federal grazing leases.

What neither Zinke nor Trump seem to take into account is the incredibly positive economic impact that national monuments, parks and federal lands produce. According to a new study just released by the Outdoor Industries Association, the combined value of all outdoor sport industries is approximately $887 billion, while producing 7.6 million jobs, $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue. In comparison, the study says the pharmaceuticals industry is valued at $466 billion while the gas and fuels industry comes in at $304 billion.

Rest assured, Secretary Zinke, your fellow Montanans will be watching closely. And if you meant what you said about “the people the monuments affect should be considered and given a meaningful voice,” it had better include the 325 million Americans who own, use and treasure our national monuments.

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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