Published Monday, July 31, 2017 | 12:47 p.m.
Updated Monday, July 31, 2017 | 1:47 p.m.
Nevada monuments advocates are criticizing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s shortened visit to the West.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev, county officials and people from groups including Friends of Gold Butte spoke out this morning, the time of Zinke’s canceled meeting with local stakeholders. The interior secretary, who is conducting a federal monuments review at the request of President Donald Trump, was in Bunkerville on Sunday as part of a tour of the West.
“This review that the administration is doing, going back 30 years, is just absurd,” Titus said. “It’s an agenda, and one that most people in this country do not support.”
A full report on Zinke’s monument review is due in August.
“Monuments have been adjusted ... 18 times before,” Zinke told the Associated Press on Sunday. “So I don’t think there’s too much question that a monument can be adjusted. Whether a monument can be rescinded or not, that is a question for the courts.”
Zinke cut his Nevada visit short due to a Cabinet meeting in Washington, D.C., according to a statement from the Interior Department on Friday.
“For those who were originally scheduled for meetings on Monday, the secretary offered time to have the meetings on Sunday,” the statement said. “For those organizations that turned down the offer to reschedule, they have been offered phone conversations with the secretary this week to ensure their voices are heard.”
The department said Zinke has a call with the Moapa Tribe today. The department also said Zinke met with people from all points of view on the issue, though Titus disagreed this morning.
Titus said Zinke had agreed to meet with people on both sides of the issue, but the visit turned into a political event with Republican candidates for office rather than an educational opportunity.
“We don’t appreciate it,” Titus said, noting similarities with Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s visit to Yucca Mountain.
Speakers criticized the lack of communication from Zinke’s office, and Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said his actions were disrespectful to the state. She said a poll showed 71 percent of respondents supported the Gold Butte and Basin and Range monument designations.
“We need to protect it but also make sure the public has proper access,” she said. “We need to make sure that they have safety out there, bathrooms. We have to work with the Interior Department on that, but they’re not working in a collegial manner.”
Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, whose district includes Mesquite, said she was angry that the meeting was canceled. She said she didn’t receive notice about the change until late Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t know where we go from here,” she said. “It’s quite disappointing.”
Native American artifacts and protected species can be found at Gold Butte. Basin and Range National Monument stands in the way of the original proposed rail route to take nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, the site of a proposed national repository.
Santa Clara Pueblo tribal member Patrick Naranjo, UNLV’s liaison, outreach & program coordinator for Native American populations, attended Zinke’s Nevada visit. He said it was a disservice for the secretary to cancel his Monday meeting.
“We are advocating as the first citizens of Nevada for protection of our national monuments,” he said, noting that he is not a Southern Nevada tribal member. “What we are discussing is the reaffirmation of the contemporary existence of these indigenous communities in North America, in Nevada, on behalf of the United States and the history that we’ve experienced.”
Nonprofit Friends of Gold Butte board member and Mesquite resident Terri Rylander said the group was formed in 2003 in response to damage to the area’s cultural and natural resources.
“(There’s) vandalism to rock walls, looting of historical sites, vandalism to signs and fences, vehicle trespass across pristine desert near sacred cultural sites. One of the worst things (was) a non-permitted water system where a citizen dug a trench 22 miles across prime desert tortoise habitat,” she said.
After a long process and years of compromise over boundaries, she said, protections were put in place.
“The monument designation is an assurance that these antiquities and the economic benefits that result from people visiting them will always be there for us to enjoy, so long as we have the foresight to keep the protections in place,” she said.