Some public lands are too important to lose to drilling rights, and those lands just so happen to be in Montana ― the home state of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Montana won’t lose any acres or protections for its current national monuments, and the state may also get a brand-new 200-square-mile national monument. That could happen even as the ink dries on Zinke’s recommendation to open millions of acres of public land in other states to oil and gas interests.
Zinke recommended the massive Badger-Two Medicine area in northwest Montana be designated as a national monument over the summer. The designation would protect the federal lands from any oil and gas development.
President Donald Trump has called public lands monuments across the nation a “massive land grab.” And Zinke has advised Trump to shrink or reduce protections for millions of acres in 10 monuments in other states.
That’s why a new monument in Montana has locals “scratching their heads,” notes NPR.
“As you’re attacking the seminal accomplishments of [President Theodore] Roosevelt [who first established national monuments] and at the same time talking about adding a monument, it didn’t make much sense,” Land Tawney, head of the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, told the Missoulian.
Zinke, a former Montana congressman, grew up a couple of hours west of the area he has recommended protecting from drilling rights. But many speculate that his public-lands strategy is less about familiarity and more about political strategy. Tawney and others believe Zinke will run for governor of the state when he’s done serving Trump.
“I think the people of Montana hold our special places very near and dear,” Tawney told NPR. “If you do not protect those places I think it’s a political nightmare for you in this state.”
Other states hold their special places near and dear as well. The White House hasn’t revealed Zinke’s recommendations for those sites. But in a memorandum obtained by The Washington Post in September, Zinke advised Trump to modify 10 national monuments, including shrinking at least four in Western states and dropping drilling protections for others.
Zinke advised shrinking Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou. The Utah sites alone comprise some 3.2 million acres. Zinke’s memorandum doesn’t specify how many acres might be cut. Reducing protections could also open up remaining land to commercial fishing, grazing, logging and coal mining.
In Zinke’s memo, he notes that the 130,000-acre Two Badger-Medicine site is sacred to the Blackfeet Nation. Bears Ears in Utah is sacred to the Navajo Nation, yet that’s on the chopping block. The other site in Utah, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, includes some of the most important dinosaur fossil sites in the world.
Trump is expected to announce his decision concerning the national monuments in December.