Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke apparently has told members of Colorado’s congressional delegation that he is not inclined to alter or eliminate Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Both of Colorado’s U.S. senators, plus Rep. Scott Tipton, whose congressional district includes the monument, urged Zinke to leave CANM alone. The Cortez City Council also weighed in, recommending that the monument designation remain unchanged.
It is especially telling that not a single citizen asked the council to advocate for changes to the monument. That might not have been true even a decade ago, but the monument has been a done deal since 2000, and citizens’ fears surrounding its designation have not come to pass.
Zinke is right in believing the monument is settled, and his decision to leave well enough alone is a wise one. Multiple use is still the management philosophy of the monument. Cattle haven’t been banned; energy extraction continues. Those uses coexist with mountain biking, hiking, tourism and protection of the monument’s thousands of archaeological sites. That is not to say that those protections are adequately funded, but they are far better than nothing, and they are certainly not unduly restrictive.
Still, the president and many of his advisors do not seem to have a clear understanding of the value and purpose of public lands, which are primarily a feature of the western half of the country. Whittling away at them is terrible, but fencing them off and forgetting them also is disastrous.
Zinke is proposing deep personnel reductions to the Department of the Interior, and as staffing shrinks, so do programs. Such a plan almost guarantees that politicians will continue to point to the West’s national forests, monuments, parks and refuges and say, “Look, they’re not being managed well. The private sector can do better.”
But managing for profit is not the same as managing for protection and public access. Multiple use of public lands is a long-held value in the western United States, and it has supported multiple goals that range from conservation and preservation to the development of sustainable local economies. When the system is allowed to function as intended, it works very well.
The public comment period at regulations.gov ends July 10. While CANM appears to be off the chopping block for now, it still needs advocates, because changing the monument’s designation is not the only way to destroy it.