U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has taken a horseback ride to get a close-up view of twin buttes that are the namesake of Utah's new Bears Ears National Monument. These National Monuments comprise almost 230 million acres of federally protected land and sea, which could all be on the chopping block and handed back to states to do with them what they will.
Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are among 27 national monuments the administration is considering altering or revoking under an executive action signed by President Donald Trump in April.
"I'm coming in this thing as a Montanan, a former congressman and now the secretary of the Interior without any predispositions of outcome", Zinke said at a news conference Sunday evening in Salt Lake City.
His tour guide aboard the helicopter will be Gov. Gary Herbert, one of several prominent Republican leaders in the state who oppose the Bears Ears National Monument.
Zinke tweeted several pictures after landing in Blanding and wrote, "Touching down". And as they did in so many other places, the white settlers drove Native Americans from their land and insisted that many of their children learn English.
Tara Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation who lives south of the nearby town of Bluff, said she's glad Zinke's viewing the spectacular landscape within Bears Ears.
Zinke was met by a group of activists who want to see the 1.35 million-acre monument remain under federal protection from development and desecration. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, introduces U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to speak at a news conference after having met with members of the Bears Ears Commission at the Bureau of Land Management.
Zinke and Herbert are scheduled to hold a news conference Monday afternoon before hiking up to the House on Fire, one of dozens of intact ancient ruins within the monument.
Twenty-two of the 27 national monuments up for review, including Bears Ears, are in the onshore, and all but one - Maine's Katahdin Woods and Waters - are in the West.
"In Blanding, with a population of 3,400 people, two large banners read, "#RescindBearsEars", reflecting the popular sentiment among residents. In Monticello, 20 miles north, large yellow stickers in the shape of a bear with the words "no monument" could be seen on the windows of pickup trucks.More news: Former official says she warned White House about Flynn
After his arrival Sunday in Salt Lake City, Zinke was met by about 500 protesters who chanted, "Save our monuments, stand with Bears Ears".
Zinke has been tasked with making a recommendation on the monument by June 10, about two and a half months before a final report about all the monuments.
"A lot of the anger that is out there in our country is that local communities and states just don't feel like they've had a voice", Zinke, a Montana Republican, said.
On Tuesday, Zinke plans to tour the Bears Ears area on horseback.
After holding a closed-door meeting with a coalition of tribal leaders who pushed for the monument, Zinke spoke on Sunday of his admiration for President Theodore Roosevelt, who created the law that gives presidents the power to create monuments.
Conservation groups contend that the monument review puts in limbo protections on areas that are home to ancient cliff dwellings, towering Sequoias, deep canyons and ocean habitats where seals, whales and sea turtles roam. The Mojave Trails National Monument in California is second at 1.6 million acres, while the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona is fourth at 1.01 million acres. President Obama set aside 1.35 million acres for the monument last December, shortly before leaving office.
Environmental groups have vowed to file lawsuits if Trump attempts to rescind monuments - a move that would be unprecedented.
"President Trump, I'm going to tell you, is a great boss".
While a public comments period is not required under this, Secretary Zinke and President Trump "both strongly believe that local input is a critical component of federal land management", a press release stated. "States count. America counts".