As detailed in published reports, more than 2.7 million people submitted comments during a 60-day comment period to the Department of the Interior, in support of America’s national monuments. Commenters included local residents in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada, whose ways of life and livelihoods depend on the protected lands.
Earlier this spring, President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review 22 of the monuments created by presidential executive order since 1996, to see if any of them should be decreased in size, completely rescinded, or left alone.
If not delayed, Zinke was to deliver his final status report to the president on Aug. 24, detailing his assessment of the monuments, including some marine monuments which stretch from Maine to California.
A teleconference, sponsored by the Washington D.C.-based Wilderness Society, was held Aug. 16. At that time, a number of invited guests gave prepared comments on their reasons for keeping the monuments in their states untouched, after which the teleconference was opened to questions from listeners and members of the press.
Those who spoke included Hector Balderas, New Mexico Attorney General; Fawn Douglas, former council member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe; Joe Sheehey, of the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society and bighorn hunter; Blake Spaulding, restaurant owner at Boulder Mountain Lodge in Boulder, Utah; Fernando Clemente, wildlife biologist, taxidermist, and sportsman in New Mexico; Davis Filfred, Navajo Nation Council member in Utah; and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, California Assemblywoman.
In summary, all the speakers were in favor of keeping the monuments in their areas untouched. Only one, Fawn Douglas, spoke of the Gold Butte Monument in southeastern Nevada, and nothing was said by anyone about the Basin and Range Monument in Lincoln and Nye counties.
Douglas said she was very disappointed when Secretary Zinke came to Gold Butte in late July because he only stayed one day. He had earlier promised to listen and engage with local communities and national monument stakeholders before making any permanent decision, “but did not meet with us and did not listen to us.”
Zinke did not visit the Basin and Range Monument on the ground, but flew over it instead, which upset some of the local people who had hoped to meet with him to express their concerns, both pro, and con.
New Mexico Attorney General Balderas said attempts to change, reduce, rescind, or cancel the national monuments under review were in his words, “an assault on all of them … it would also threaten the diverse benefits in our communities that rely on them.”
In addition, he said, “the legalities of the monuments are well established in the Antiquities Act of 1906, and any such actions would be open and subject to court action.”
In the question and answer period which followed the speakers’ remarks, there were no comments in opposition to the monuments remaining in their present form.
Some people, however, have expressed concerns in published articles or letters to the editors of select newspapers that monuments such as Basin and Range and Gold Butte are just “sellouts to special interests – companies that sell outdoors gear (to hikers and bicycle riders), and lobby endlessly for more monuments and wilderness areas – by which to sell even more equipment and high-end clothing … Follow the money.”
Basin and Range is 704,000 acres, covering sections of both Lincoln and Nye counties. It is just a bit smaller than the state of Rhode Island (776,960 acres).
When spoken with a few days after the teleconference, Lincoln County Commissioners Varlin Higbee and Kevin Phillips both said the Basin and Range is “too big.” Higbee commented, “The topographical area and geographical area is no different than any other basin all the way across Nevada and Arizona; they are all the same.”
He is strongly opposed to locking up that many acres, believing it was primarily “politically driven, for two reasons: Mike Heizer’s City sculpture, and stopping a railroad being built through Garden Valley to take radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain.”
He said, “Heizer’s land is private and the Antiquities Act has never been, and should not be, used to protect private property. And there is nothing really so special out there. Ancient Indian writing (petroglyphs) exist in every basin and on every range have sites, and currently protected under already- established rights and other wilderness areas. For Lincoln County’s economy, it’s a detriment, not a plus.”
The five-man board of Lincoln County Commissioners has submitted at least three letters stating its unanimous opposition to Basin and Range.
Phillips expressed similar thoughts, “It’s too much, too big. The Antiquities Act never anticipated such huge swaths of reserved ground. Nothing more than a land grab away from local control and unlawful, in my opinion.”