So-called monuments review was much ado about much ado

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By Sherry Robinson

The dreaded national monument review stirred up the dust and is now disappearing.
In April the administration called for a review of 27 national monuments, including two in New Mexico and two nearby in Utah, to examine “another egregious use of federal power,” as the president put it. After many protests and photos of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on horseback, what’s happened is: Not much.
The blowback was hotter than Zinke and the administration anticipated; public comments, overwhelmingly in support, topped 2.3 million. New Mexicans submitted the largest number of comments per capita (97,000). Supporters went all out to demonstrate that these monuments weren’t just an environmental fantasy – they were created after long study and public hearings, and all but Utah’s monuments enjoyed broad public support.
From the beginning, it was obvious that the main target was the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, established by President Obama at the end of his term. The two buttes that give Bear’s Ears its name lie just north of the Navajo Reservation.
We in New Mexico should care about Bears Ears because it’s within the Four Corners tourism orbit, and a place New Mexicans visit as well. New Mexico archaeologist Tom Windes, who has worked in Bears Ears for 17 years, recently told his peers: “There are a huge number of sites that are unrecorded. Many are being reported in detail for the first time. There’s incredible archaeology there.” He also said that a lot of the rock art has been shot up or chainsawed off.
What few people outside the area understand is that this is one more fight between the Mormons and the Navajos. The only difference is that this one includes other tribes plus environmentalists and archeologists. For years, Navajos in the Utah portion of the reservation have had to fight for everything – voting rights, roads, schools and infrastructure.
“Everything done in San Juan County is done through lawsuits,” said former tribal council member Mark Maryboy. “We’re the poorest of the poor. It’s the poorest county in Utah and the most racist.”

After a four-month review, Zinke submitted a secret report with his recommendations to the president, which was later leaked. He proposed shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah. The latter, designated by President Clinton in 1996, halted the proposed Smoky Hollow coal mine, and the monuments have been controversial in Utah ever since.

Zinke’s report was loaded with generalizations about providing needed changes for nearby communities and the desirability of the smallest possible footprint. For New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces, he didn’t suggest changing the borders but did vaguely recommend more public access, protection of traditional and tribal uses as well as hunting and fishing, and tribal management of designated cultural areas.

At Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks he ordered his agency to work with the Department of Homeland Security on “border safety” in the Portrillos Mountains Complex and the Department of Defense on nearby military installations. Zinke ignored Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM, who wants the monument reduced to a postage stamp.
At the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, Zinke said road closures had affected grazing, but he didn’t make any recommendations.

Tribes and environmental groups have promised to fight any changes in court, and there’s now a lively debate in the legal community about what powers a president has under the Antiquities Act.

In October President Trump told Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that he would reduce the size of Bears Ears. Nobody else, including Pearce, got such a call, so it’s safe to assume that Hatch’s gripe with Bears Ears was the point of this so-called review. The dust devil has spun itself out.