Students might be back in school, but the Labor Day holiday weekend beckons — and that means many Americans might make one final summertime jaunt to our national parks and monuments, including Waco Mammoth National Monument. In that cheerful context, we praise Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s reported decision to preserve those national monuments whose designations suddenly appeared in doubt.
Granted, Waco Mammoth National Monument’s existence as a full-fledged monument was never questioned, even though President Obama designated it a monument in July 2015 — and the scrutiny to which many monuments were subjected by President Trump and Secretary Zinke at least partially seemed driven by a quest to obliterate any accomplishments by Trump’s predecessor.
In a Thursday interview with The Associated Press, Secretary Zinke said he would not ask the president to remove any of the 27 protected monuments under review since April, though he would propose shifting some boundaries, particularly for controversial Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Even then, sections removed from certain parks would remain under federal control.
No doubt, any decisions shifting policies or changing boundaries for monuments will trigger lawsuits. For instance, Native American tribes that fought hard to get Obama to designate Bears Ears National Monument are braced to battle any effort to shrink it. Even so, Zinke seems to have bowed to polls that repeatedly demonstrated the huge popularity of our national parks and monuments.
One reason this newspaper cheered Zinke’s addition to the president’s cabinet this year was because of his staunchly conservative credentials as a Republican congressman, yet his resistance to those on the far right who want the government to sell off or give away federal lands, including, yes, parks and monuments. Whatever else, Zinke has indicated he understands President Teddy Roosevelt’s insight in first employing the National Antiquities Act of 1906 in preserving public lands. A celebrated historian, hunter and naturalist, Roosevelt believed the American public would better appreciate the accomplishments and sacrifices of our forefathers if everyday folks could see the rugged lands that both challenged and inspired them.
That even goes for Waco Mammoth National Monument, which champions the prehistoric beasts President Thomas Jefferson hoped Lewis and Clark might find alive in their 19th-century expedition through the American West. Jefferson saw the mammoths as representing, in so many ways, the superiority of our flora and fauna over those in the corrupted, wasted stretches of the Old World.
Zinke declined to say whether he would recommend drilling for oil and gas or other such mining or logging activity on public lands — something Trump has touted — but the secretary’s decision on preserving current monuments at least demonstrates they’re of tremendous value to the public. That should go a long way toward addressing any and all questions of how these near-sacred places are ultimately treated.