Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is one of 27 monuments earmarked for review by Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, but his recent comments indicate it is not a priority for changes.
During a Natural Resources Committee hearing June 20, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., told Zinke that Canyons of the Ancients is what “the Antiquities Act was intended to do, protect cultural treasures while incorporating the historic use of the land. I urge you to protect this monument as it stands.”
When Gardner asked for an update on the monument, Zinke responded, “It is not on our priority review list.”
Then on June 22, during a budget hearing for the Department of Interior, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, told Zinke that Canyons “is important in my district, and to me personally of course, and should there be any changes moving forward, we’d really appreciate making sure we’re in concert with your office in having good communication.”
Zinke replied, “My intent was not to rip off Band-Aids and create wounds where there (are) none. (The intent was) to make sure that monuments had public input, that there is overwhelming support, and to make sure that the monument designations in the prescribed period followed the law.”
In May, Tipton and Gardner sent Zinke a letter urging the Interior Department to preserve Canyons of the Ancients as it is. The monument was designated in 2000 by President Bill Clinton.
Monument manager Marietta Eaton directed questions about the monument’s review process to the Bureau of Land Management’s public affairs office in Montrose.
She emphasized that Canyons of the Ancients is “open to the public, so come and explore.”
The Anasazi Heritage Center, 27501 Colorado Highway 184, Dolores, offers itineraries on places to visit on the monument based on your schedule and hiking ability, she said.
In response to Zinke’s review of the monuments, the Center for American Progress has conducted ecological analyses on 22 of the monuments. The center released the results Monday.
“We analyzed the monuments in order to understand – scientifically speaking – how exceptional the places are,” said Kate Kelly, public lands director for the center.
According to the study, Canyons of the Ancients stands out for its mammal diversity and has a high profile for oil and gas resources.
The monument’s ecological values scored higher than a majority of similarly sized areas in the West for bird diversity, uninterrupted landscapes, mammal and reptile diversity and rare species.
When compared with regional national parks and monuments, Canyons of the Ancients scored in the 82nd percentile for mammal diversity, better than Arches (67th), Canyonlands (78th) and Grand Canyon (57th).
For bird diversity, the monument scored at the 65th percentile, which is also higher than Arches (54th), Canyonlands (39th) and Grand Canyon (60th).
For reptile diversity, it scored at the 73rd percentile, which was slightly higher than Arches, Canyonlands and the Grand Canyon. Canyons of the Ancients has a variety of herpetological resources, including habitats for the Mesa Verde night snake, long-nosed leopard lizard and twin-spotted spiny lizard.
Kelly said the Center conducted the study because it believed science-based studies on the benefits of monuments is helpful for the public to see.
“When it comes to reviewing the national monuments, there is a lot of heated rhetoric, and we wanted to infuse science and facts behind it,” Kelly said. “Monuments are protected for a variety of reasons, including natural features and cultural history. What is sometimes overlooked is the scientific underpinning of these places.”