Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s memo to President Trump recommending an unspecified reduction in size of several recently created national monuments — including the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County — has sent the usual suspects into apoplexy.
Democrat Rep. Ruben Kihuen, whose district includes Gold Butte, screeched, “The latest leaks from this administration show that once again Secretary Zinke is ignoring the will of Nevadans by recommending that the size of Gold Butte National Monument be reduced. This decision will not only be detrimental to Nevada’s economy and shared cultural heritage, but it is further proof that the monument review process has been rigged from the start. Secretary Zinke promised that Nevadans’ voices would be heard. Instead, we got half-hearted attempts to meet with stakeholders and secret memos cooked up behind closed doors, all when the outcome was predetermined from the beginning. When it comes to altering our monuments and impacting our livelihood, Nevadans deserve more than unofficial leaks and uncorroborated reports. Secretary Zinke should look Nevadans in the eye and give it to us straight, rather than hide behind the administration’s continued shroud of secrecy.”
Actually, the residents of Mesquite welcome the reduction, especially if the free land assures the town it will have access to springs in the region that will be needed to supply the growing community with drinking water in the future.
Zinke’s memo specifically noted that the water district has historic water rights to six springs and five of those are within the Obama-designated national monument boundaries.
Democrat Rep. Dina Titus weighed in by proclaiming, “Secretary Zinke leaked a memo in the middle of the night because he knows his plan to hack away at monuments like Gold Butte is an overreach opposed by the majority of Americans. Gold Butte’s opponents have created a straw man argument about water rights without mentioning that the monument’s proclamation includes language to protect them. Now we must recommit our effort to protect these precious public lands in the courts and send a strong message to Zinke and Trump to keep their hands off our monuments.”
Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen claimed, “No President has unilateral power to revoke a national monument under the Antiquities Act and any decision to redefine protections for Nevada’s national monuments is a blatant overreach. This rash decision by the Trump Administration will not only endanger Nevada’s natural beauty and chip away at our cultural heritage, but it will also hurt our state’s outdoor recreation economy by eliminating jobs that have contributed significantly to our local tourism industry. I’ll continue to stand up to this administration, in every way I can, to protect Nevada’s public lands.”
Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in the past has opposed reducing the footprint of any national monument.
But Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei had opposed the designation of Gold Butte and the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in Nye and Lincoln counties. Zike’s memo makes no mention of Basin and Range.
Heller said, “As a strong proponent of states’ rights, the Obama Administration’s decision to bypass Congress and designate two national monuments in Nevada despite widespread disagreement at the local level is an example of extreme overreach and the failed Washington-knows-best mentality. That is why I welcomed Secretary Zinke to Nevada to see first-hand the impact of monuments designated under the Antiquities Act with no local input. After talking to and meeting with the Secretary several times, I am pleased that he has taken my recommendation to ask the President to modify Gold Butte’s boundaries to allow the Virgin Valley Water District to access its water rights that were lost under the previous Administration. These actions recommended by me and Secretary Zinke prioritize local concerns over the opinion of Washington bureaucrats, and I hope that President Trump will agree with the Secretary.”
Frankly, the designations as national monuments did little more than create paperwork, because the all the land was under the jurisdiction of various federal land agencies, primarily the Bureau of Land Management. The monument designation does nothing to add actual protection for the few petroglyphs and other artifacts that are located on the sites.
Zinke noted this lack of protection and wrote that his agency “should work with Congress to secure funding for adequate infrastructure and management needs to protect objects effectively” in Gold Butte.
As we have already noted, these monuments need not be so large.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 was passed in order to protect prehistoric and Indian ruins and artifacts on federal land in the West and the law limits such designations to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.” While earlier monuments averaged 422 acres, several of Obama’s designations exceeded a million acres.
The Gold Butte portion of the Zinke memo: