U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke toured Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments during a short visit to Nevada on July 30. He said that while every monument is unique, public lands are not for sale.

According to reports in the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending President Donald Trump make cutbacks and other changes to “nearly half the geographic national monuments he recently reviewed.” 

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Monday, Sep 17, that the publication had reviewed the report Zinke sent President Trump in August. There has not been any official statement released by the White House or Zinke’s office about the contents of the report.  

While the WSJ article said the “report recommends reducing the boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante preserves in Utah, and reopening hundreds of thousands of square miles of protected oceans in both the Pacific and Atlantic to commercial fishing” it did not mention any action associated with Gold Butte National Monument south of Mesquite and Bunkerville.  

However, the Associated Press reported that in addition to the Utah monuments, Zinke recommended unspecified boundary reductions for Gold Butte and Cascade-Siskiyou monument in Oregon. The Basin and Range Monument in Lincoln County north of Mesquite was included in the “reviewed but no recommendations made” category. 

The official Gold Butte monument contains approximately 300,000 acres, down 50,000 acres from a proposed national conservation area. Former President Barack Obama designated the monument in December 2016 just weeks from the end of his second term.  

The Virgin Valley Water District has rights to over 2,200 acre feet per year of water in Gold Butte and has been working to maintain the rights-of-way to the water sources. However, murky language in the monument proclamation could impede access based on how the resource management plan is written in future years. 

Zinke toured Gold Butte and Basin and Range monuments on July 30 and met with VVWD General Manager Kevin Brown who told him moving the northern Gold Butte boundary southward about five miles would remove the water resources from within the designation.  

“I talked to the water district manager and that’s a concern we’re looking at; to make sure the boundaries would allow infrastructure updating and flood control. We’re making sure the proclamation doesn’t impede using the land in a way that’s reasonable and with common sense,” Zinke said in a press conference after the tour and meeting.  

Brown told the MLN “I am very encouraged by the recommendations to President Trump by Zinke regarding the potential changes to the Gold Butte boundaries. However, President Trump must still act on the recommendations and until he does we will continue working with local BLM officials to ensure that continued access to our water rights is maintained. We will have to wait to see what potential legal actions by outside entities are generated and see how things work out from there.”  

Conservationists and environmental groups have threatened to sue the Trump administration if the President approves any of the recommendations saying the Antiquities Act of 1906 does not give any president the legal authority to make changes to already-designated monuments. 

“Mr. Zinke also recommended the president request congressional authority to enable tribal co-management of sensitive cultural areas, such as Native-American artifacts in the Gold Butte monument,” according to the WSJ. 

While water rights owned by Lincoln County Water District in the Basin and Range monument are still in effect, the sources are not accessible for use based on the land management around them.  

Zinke explained that the Antiquities Act under which President Obama designated the monuments, requires that the smallest area compatible with protecting the cultural, historic or unique objects within be included. He also said that only federal land can be included, not state or private property. 

The Associate Press article also said “The recommendations cap an unprecedented four-month review based on Trump’s claim that the century-old Antiquities Act had been misused by past presidents to create oversized monuments that hinder energy development, grazing and other uses.