A trove of documents released by the Department of the Interior reveal that officials ignored the benefits of national monuments, including those related to tourism and archaeological work, while conducting its review of 27 monuments last year, the Washington Post reports.
As Pacific Standard reported in August, the review had the feeling of a "fait accompli," with Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee arguing that it was "a shameless handout to fossil fuel interests and other industrial concerns." It was the basis for President Donald Trump's executive orders to downsize Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, the largest repeal of protections for public lands in the history of the United States.
The new documents—which the department retracted a day after releasing them—show that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and his team's review prioritized logging, ranching, and mining potential over any non-industry benefits. Comments on the documents also plainly note the redaction of certain references that could "reveal strategy about the review process," according to the Post.
Here's what public lands advocates and other environmental advocates are saying about this development.
Aaron Weiss, Media Director, Center for Western Priorities
This botched document dump reveals what we've suspected all along: Secretary Zinke ignored clear warnings from his own staff that shrinking national monuments would put sacred archaeological and cultural sites at risk. Trying to hide those warnings from the public months later is disgraceful and possibly illegal.
These documents make it clear that the Interior Department is taking liberties with the Freedom of Information Act, repeatedly attempting to redact basic facts that are embarrassing to Secretary Zinke. Basic facts about America's public lands should never be hidden from the public. Now we have to wonder what's been blacked out in the thousands of other pages [the Department of the Interior] released before.
Chris Saeger, Executive Director, Western Values Project
This confirms many suspicions Western Values Project has had over the sham monuments review process and the reliability of the public documents released from Secretary Zinke's [Department of the Interior]. While the Secretary promised under oath that this would be the "most transparent Interior in his lifetime," it's been just the opposite: His tenure has been filled with closed door meetings, secrecy and keeping the public in the dark. This revelation raises serious questions about every decision [made] during Secretary Zinke's tenure and what has been redacted in previous public document releases.
Josh Ewing, Executive Director, Friends of Cedar Mesa
The new documents released confirm what we've seen as a trend from the current administration to filter facts to the benefit of the extractive industry at any cost—sometimes even beyond what's requested by industry representatives. The vast majority of Americans value indigenous sacred sites, scientific discovery, American history, and world-class recreation. Yet this vocal majority who want to see these places protected is being ignored, creating a significant danger to internationally significant landscapes like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase.
Mathew Gross, Media Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
These documents confirm what has been self-evident all along: Secretary Zinke's monuments review was a sham from the start. When he visited Utah, he spent barely an hour with tribal leaders who support Bears Ears National Monument, and days with the county commissioners who oppose it. At Grand Staircase, he refused to meet with business owners who have benefited from the designation. We remain confident that President Trump's illegal proclamations will be overturned by the courts.
Arian Rubio, Legislative Associate for Lands, League of Conservation Voters
The Interior Department documents show that the Trump administration had no intention of being responsible stewards of our public lands and waters. By dismissing the many benefits of protecting national monuments—and the millions of people across the country who weighed in with their support of parks and public lands—Secretary Zinke and his aides made it clear that the goal of their sham review was to sell out these special places to the highest bidder at all costs. It was nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to hand over places like Bears Ears to drilling and mining companies.
Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club
Ryan Zinke's inability to cover up his dangerous strategy of selling out our public lands while disregarding the facts and the American people is as reckless as the plan itself. No cover-up can ever suppress the fact that the American people overwhelmingly support protecting our national parks, monuments, and public lands.
Matt Lee-Ashley, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
The documents show in gruesome detail how the Trump Administration tried to cover up its reasons for attacking America's national monuments. The largest attempted elimination of protected areas in American history was a sell-out—plain and simple—to mining, drilling, logging, and other extractive interests. Secretary Zinke should apologize to the 2.8 million Americans who took the time to submit comments for a review that turned out to be as rigged as it was rotten.