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Nevada Today

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A Fools Errand: Zinke Studies the National Monuments

DoI Secretary Ryan Zinke visits Mesquite, NV on July 30th, 2017 promoting his National Monument studies. “Public Lands are not for Sale.'” he said.
Thanks to a federal lawsuit filed by the New York Times (with an assist from Yale Law School’s Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic), Americans are now privy to more than 25,000 pages of Interior Department emails that tell the real story of what went down when Zinke and company were deliberating whether to dramatically shrink the size of these national monuments or leave them alone.

As the Pacific Standard reported, last year  Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke’s National Monument 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.”

The entire effort was a political stunt to give Donald Trump cover to open Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah to unnecessary and economically untenable fossil fuel and timber development.

Thousands of pages of email correspondence chart how Zinke and his political aides tailored there survey of protected sites to falsely emphasize the value of logging, ranching, and energy development that would be unlocked if they were not designated national monuments.

Bears Earns National Monument (BENM)

May 9th, 2017. Zinke rides his favorite horse Tonto over Bears Ears National Monument.

Because of Zinkes’ false reporting, Trump decided, in December 2017, to scale back the Obama era designations of the Bears Ears National Monument (BENM) by 16 percent.

The real study shows very little, if any,valuable coal within the BENM boundaries. There are no producing oil and gas wells within BENM. While assessments suggest that potential does exist for oil and gas development, it presently remains scientifically invalid to statistically assign energy resource numbers in an assessment unit to a specific area.

Furthermore, the upper northeast panhandle of the BENM lies within the boundaries of the Moab Master Leasing Plan (approved in December 2016) for oil and gas production. Also, portions of the south-eastern and south-central areas of the Monument were included in a proposed San Juan Master Leasing Plan.

Recreational activities, which were ignored in by Zinke in the BENM analysis bring in between $64 million and $69 million with supported employment reported at between 463 and 501 people.  Non-energy mineral activities, also ignored by the political actors give about $.6 million to the area economy and employ two people.

Zinke’s political actors redacted the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) assessment that “it is unlikely” that the Obama administration’s establishment of the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument “has impacted timber production,” because those activities could continue.

(The actual report of Bears Ears National Monument compiled by the non-political staff of the Department of Interior)Bears Ears analysis

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM)

In December 2017 Trump, following Zinke’s misleading reporting, announced that the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) would be cut to a little over half of its original size. Doing that makes the Zinke-Trump action the largest repeal of protections for public lands in the history of the United States.

Zinke ignored that an estimated 456,369 visited the GSENM in 1997 rising to 926,236 visits in 2016 The GSENM area provides a large variety of multiple-use recreation opportunities including traditional hiking and camping, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, as well as motorized activities for off-highway vehicles. Recreation alone brings in $142.3 million to the area community and provides jobs for 1,024 people.

The exploration of coal lands ended with the national monument designation. Existing coal leases were voluntarily exchanged for Federal payments totaling $19.5 million (not adjusted for inflation) in Dec. 1999/Jan. 2000.

In December 1999, the Andalex coal leases were voluntarily sold to the U.S. Government using Land and Water Conservation Fund funding for $14 million.

In 2015, most of the coal consumed in Utah (96%) was used at electric power plants. The remaining coal (3.9%) was consumed by the industrial sector at cement/lime plants and Kennecott Utah Copper’s power plant which provides electricity for copper smelting.

The majority of Utah coal, 80% in 2015, was used in the state, while 17% was shipped out of state (up to 60% of Utah coal was shipped to others states in the early 2000’s), and 3% was shipped to other countries.

The Zinke-Trump analysis ignored that California, historically Utah’s largest coal customer, is in the process of eliminating coal use in favor of natural gas. Nevada was the next largest domestic consumer of Utah’s coal, but Nevada also has decided to phase out coal use in electricity generation.

Utah’s electricity portfolio is dominated by coal-fired power plants. However, several natural gas plants have been built in the past 15 years, decreasing Utah’s reliance on coal generation.

Four wells within the GSENM are currently producing oil and a small amount of gas and bring in $4 million and employs 13 people. In addition to the producing wells, there are also two water injection wells in the Monument.

There are no oil and gas pipelines in the region, and all the oil is trucked 300 miles to refineries in Salt Lake City. That alone adds to the potential high cost of developing oil and gas in the GSENM area.

Five small mining operations are permitted within the Monument area. Four are active quarries for alabaster, and the fifth is a suspended operation for petrified wood. Significant quantities of gravel and other materials from existing pits continue to be provided for Federal Highways projects, primarily to Utah Department of Transportation.

No commercial timber harvest is allowed within GSENM. Non-commercial firewood harvest is allowed in two forest product areas.

Grazing is allowed within GSENM. That activity contributes $8.3 million to the area economy and employs 184 people. The number of grazing permits equals the amount of grazing permitted under ideal conditions. No reductions have occurred because of Monument designation,

As of March 6, 2017, there are 3,985 recorded archaeological sites within GSENM. However, the GSENM staff estimates that there are more likely around 6,000 recorded archaeological sites within the GSENM, based on surveys of only five to seven percent of the Monument.

Prehistoric archaeological sites in the GSENM include pottery and stone tool (lithic) scatters, the remains of cooking features (hearths), storage features such as adobe granaries and subsurface stone lined granaries, prehistoric roads, petroglyphs, pictographs and cliff

Historic sites include Historical debris scatters, roads, trails, fences, inscriptions, and structures. Approximately six percent of the area has been surveyed (120,000 acres), with 3,350 documented paleontological sites. Several new discoveries have been made including 12 new dinosaurs (including four in 2017), and 11 new mammal species.

(The actual report on the Grand Staircase compiled by the non-political staff of the Department of Interior)Grand Staricase analysis


Here is a brief summary of what Zinke-Trump forget to tell the public:

  1. Timber production continues in the BENM.
  2. The upper northeast panhandle of BENM lies within the boundaries of the Moab Master Leasing Plan. That plan considers future leasing of oil, gas, and potash on approximately 785,000 acres of public lands.[i]
  3. The market for Utah coal from the GSENM for electric power plans is diminishing as several electric plans, and industrial users in California and Nevada have switched to natural gas.
  4. In Utah, several natural gas plans have been built thus decreasing Utah’s reliance on coal.
  5. Four wells within the GSENM do continue to produce oil and the market for Utah coal from the GSENM.
  6. No commercial timber harvest is allowed within GSENM. Non-commercial firewood harvest is allowed in two forest product areas, and grazing continues in the Monument area.

Fact’s do not matter to Zinke and Trump. Like most of Trump’s ill-conceived decisions they face legal challenges while continuing to diminish the public’s opinion of his and now Zink’s veracity.


[i] The Moab Master Oil and gas Leasing Plan


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About Author

Michael McGreer Mesquite, Nevada
Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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