WALL STREET JOURNAL 5-10-17 Secretary Tours Monument

May 10, 2017

Ryan Zinke’s visit comes as Trump administration weighs rescinding designation


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke shaking hands with Navajo elder Willie Grayeyes at the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah on Monday.PHOTO: FRANCISCO KJOLSETH/THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE/ASSOCIATED PRESS


Jim Carlton

Updated May 10, 2017 1:44 a.m. ET


BLANDING, Utah—Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke toured a newly designated national monument by air, foot and on horseback as the Trump administration weighs downsizing or rescinding the preserve’s status.

The visit to the 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument on Monday and Tuesday was part of Mr. Zinke’s four-day Utah tour, and his first to a monument under review by the Trump administration for reduction or elimination. The visit is being closely watched as a template for how Mr. Zinke may handle the review process.

Bears Ears was designated a national monument in the waning days of Barack Obama’s presidency. On Wednesday, Mr. Zinke plans to visit Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, which is also under review.

Many critics of the monuments’ designation have said they were set aside without adequate input from locals, who oppose such designations because they remove the ability to develop the land or mine it for resources. Mr. Zinke’s options include moving to rescind the monument, altering its boundaries, or leaving it untouched as many tribal and environmental groups advocate.

After meetings with various groups this week, the interior secretary said Tuesday he hadn’t yet determined what he would recommend to the president.

“I’m just listening on this tour,” Mr. Zinke said Tuesday morning as he prepared to tour on horseback the Dugout Ranch, a spread surrounded by the Bears Ears monument that is owned by the Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit. “But I think there is a solution out there.”

Whatever happens here could serve as a template for the way future monuments are established, Mr. Zinke added.

At the end of his Bears Ears stay Tuesday, the interior secretary said in a telephone interview that more infrastructure and staffing was needed to cope with the crowds, regardless of the site’s status.

Mr. Zinke said he discovered that problem firsthand on Monday when he visited an archaeological site with no signage or restrooms and minimal parking. “I was thinking to myself: the discussion has been how critical it is to protect these cultural sites,” Mr. Zinke said. “But what is lacking is the infrastructure."

On Sunday in Salt Lake City, Mr. Zinke met with members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, who helped to lobby for the monument to better protect an area of Native artifacts they hold sacred.

Davis Filfred, a Navajo member of the coalition, which includes four other tribes, said the interior secretary didn’t seem sympathetic to them during their hourlong meeting at a Bureau of Land Management office.

“We got the impression he had already made up his mind,” said Mr. Filfred, whose meeting was held as hundreds of monument supporters waved placards and chanted on the street outside.

Mr. Zinke arrived at the small Blanding airport Monday morning with an entourage including Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and many of Utah’s top lawmakers—all opponents of both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monuments. Many of them said they were confident Mr. Zinke would recommend against the monument.

“This is the biggest event in the history of San Juan County,” County Commissioner Bruce Adams—wearing a cowboy hat with the logo “Make San Juan County Great Again”—said as he and other local dignitaries waited at the airport.

The former Navy SEAL soon headed up on a two-hour aerial tour aboard a Black Hawk helicopter. “Been awhile since I’ve been in a Blackhawk without people shooting at me,” Mr. Zinke told reporters later that day.

Mr. Adams said he played tour guide aboard the Blackhawk—which was tailed by two other Blackhawks containing the Utah politicians—pointing out geographic sites as well as places where uranium mining had taken place decades ago.

Mr. Adams said mining in Bears Ears disturbs little ground.

“We pointed out some mines and it was hard for him to see where they were,” he said.

On a short hike to view 700-year-old cliff dwellings at Butler Wash, the interior secretary was again accompanied by state and local officials as about 60 monument supporters—holding signs such as “Utah Stands With Bears Ears”—were kept on a parking lot by law-enforcement officers.

“Our strategy is to let people know there are people here who support the monument,” said Wayne Hoskisson, 70 years old, a Sierra Club activist who traveled to the protest from his home in nearby Moab, Utah.

Willie Grayeyes, a Navajo elder and chairman of the Utah Dine Bikeyah tribal environmental group, said he was turned away earlier when he asked to be admitted to an airport lobby where Mr. Zinke was holding court with the Utah politicians opposed to Bears Ears.

But later, when he was done with the mile-long trek, Mr. Zinke greeted protesters in the parking lot, shaking hands with Mr. Grayeyes and other Navajos who want the monument.

Mr. Grayeyes said the exchange gave him hope Mr. Zinke might work with them after all. “By stopping to shake my hand, that shows respect to Native Americans,” he said.

Mr. Zinke also met with protesters in Blanding who want the monument overturned.

“I am very grateful he would come here and listen to us,” said Merri Shumway, a 55-year-old local school-board member.

Write to Jim Carlton at jim.carlton@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications
Willie Grayeyes is a Navajo elder and chairman of the Utah Dine Bikeyah tribal environmental group. The photo caption in an earlier version of this article incorrectly gave his first name as Willy. (May 9, 2017)

Appeared in the May. 10, 2017, print edition as 'Zinke Visits Bears Ears Monument.'