BY MATTHEW DALY and BRADY McCOMBS
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and outdoor retail giant Patagonia have traded harsh words over the Trump administration’s plans to shrink several national monuments — an opening salvo in a legal battle that could last for years.
Patagonia is expected to file a lawsuit Wednesday that follows three others aimed at blocking President Donald Trump’s order on Monday drastically reducing Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
The California-based company replaced its usual home page with a stark message, “The President Stole Your Land.” Patagonia called President Donald Trump’s actions illegal and described his action as the largest elimination of protected land in American history.
Zinke shot back Tuesday, calling that “nefarious, false and a lie.” He told reporters the land targeted by Trump remains protected because it is still under federal control.
“I understand fundraising for these special interest groups,” Zinke said. “I think it’s shameful and appalling that they would blatantly lie in order to gain money in their coffers.”
Outdoor retailer REI also criticized Trump but in less harsh language.
Trump said he was reversing federal overreach by drastically cutting the sprawling monuments designated by Democratic presidents.
Tribal leaders, environmentalists and others argue the president doesn’t have that authority and his move jeopardizes a wealth of Native American artifacts, dinosaur fossils and rugged spaces.
Zinke took a defiant tone in a conference call with reporters, saying, “I don’t yield to pressure, only higher principle. And sound public policy is not based on threats of lawsuits, it’s doing what’s right.”
Zinke made the comments while discussing the release of a report that he also wants to reduce two other monuments in the U.S. West and modify rules at six others.
He said he is “fairly confident” Trump will follow his plan to scale back Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou, in addition to the two Utah sites.
Zinke said the cuts at Gold Butte would mainly come around a water district that shouldn’t have been included in the boundaries. He declined to specify how many acres he wants to remove from monument status, stressing that the administration is working with Nevada’s governor and congressional delegation to find a solution.
But he did say it would only be a small percentage of the nearly 469 square miles (1214.71 sq. kilometers) that protect desert landscapes featuring rock art, sandstone towers and wildlife habitat for the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise and other species.
Similarly, Zinke declined to give specifics on Cascade-Siskiyou, which protects about 177 square miles (458.43 sq. kilometers) in an area where three mountain ranges converge.
Changes will center on recent expansion of the site, which was first created by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Much of the additional land is on private property, while some is on land previously designated for timber production, Zinke said.
Zinke also has recommended allowing logging at a newly designated monument in Maine and urged more grazing, hunting and fishing at two sites in New Mexico. He also calls for a new assessment of border-safety risks at a monument in southern New Mexico.
Patagonia didn’t back down after Zinke’s fiery response to its post. The company said it has “always viewed public lands as our special interest,” said company spokeswoman Corley Kenna. “And it’s odd that Ryan Zinke has no problem with special interests when they’re paying for his private jets. We have been fighting for these lands for decades, so that hunters, fishers, hikers and everyone else can use them and help us protect them.”
Patagonia’s statements follow more than a year of the company’s activism on the issue.
The company previously joined REI and other outdoor recreation companies in a push to move the industry’s lucrative trade show from Salt Lake City to Denver in a high-profile protest over Utah leaders’ insistence on getting the Bears Ears designation rescinded and trying to take more control of federal lands.
Zinke argued that Bears Ears is still larger than Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks combined even after being downsized to about 315 square miles (815.85 sq. kilometers) while Grand Staircase-Escalante retains about 1,500 square miles (3885 sq. kilometers).
A coalition of the Hopi, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni tribes and Navajo Nation sued late Monday to challenge the Bears Ears reduction.
The tribes argue that federal law only gives presidents the ability to create a national monument, not downsize one.
Two lawsuits have been filed challenging the Grand Staircase cuts, one by a coalition of environmental groups and the other by a group of organizations that includes the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
Daly reported from Washington.
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