KANAB – Tribal leaders, environmental advocates and others came away from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s visit to Utah this week feeling like his attention was dominated by voices hostile to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National monuments.

Zinke, formerly a Republican congressman from Montana, spent four days in the beehive state, visiting the monuments and visiting with stakeholders as he begins a review of those monuments and more than two dozen others ordered by President Donald Trump.

Zinke visited with the tribal coalition that instigated the Bears Ears movement, toured a historic ranch maintained by the Nature Conservancy and heard from monument supporters gathered for a rally outside Grand Staircase-Escalante.

But many of those supporters said they were concerned about what they called a one-sidedness to Zinke’s visit, noting that the majority of his time was spent flanked by local county commissioners, state lawmakers and others who almost uniformly opposed the monument designation.

“It’s very clear they’re meeting only with opponents to the monument,” said Mark Austin, a contractor and member of the Escalante-Boulder Chamber of Commerce, one of a number of groups that complained they were given no time with Zinke.

A lack of representation was a common theme as a crowd of more than 300 people gathered in Kanab ahead of Zinke’s visit, with another 150 continued to the city’s small airport, standing outside the gate and chanting “talk to us!” as Zinke met with press and local officials before departing on a private plane.


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But Zinke argued that he had tried to reach out to everyone, listing off the various elected leaders, organizations and advocacy groups he’d met during his four-day trip.

About the demonstrators, Zinke said he wasn’t offended.

“I don’t call them protesters, I call them advocates,” he said.

Zinke has repeatedly denied that the review process comes with any predetermined outcomes, and he said an overarching theme to all of the visit was agreement on all sides about the need to protect the region’s unique landscapes and cultural meanings.

"I’m an optimist,” Zinke said. “After being on the ground for a few days and talking to people on all sides I think everyone has a lot more in common than previously thought. Everyone wants to preserve the important areas. The question is what vehicle of land management.”

But that last part is what worries those who want to keep the monuments in place.

The Bears Ears area especially has seen years of scrutiny and years of study, with intergovernmental discussions about how to protect the area’s cultural resources going back decades, and supporters said they believe the process was already followed when the monuments were made.


Susan St. Joan, cofounder of the group Wild Kane County, said she was alarmed to hear the government might chip away at the monuments to make way for different types of “management.”


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“I think we have to preserve every single spot of wilderness we have as much as we can,” she said. “We can’t have both industrial development on public lands and preserve them.”

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Follow David DeMille on Twitter, @SpectrumDeMille, and on Facebook at Call him at 435-674-6261.

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