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Monumental silence from Trump administration on Zinke’s review

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s national monument report went to the White House on Thursday, but the Trump administration has yet to disclose any recommendations from the unprecedented four-month review.

The lack of information drew criticism from monument advocates, including Democratic members of Nevada’s congressional delegation. Conservation groups have formally requested the release of Zinke’s report under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Interior Department responded to the growing calls for transparency on Friday by releasing a list of news stories and statements from right-leaning groups praising Zinke and the monument review.

The department’s press office did not respond Thursday or Friday to questions from the Las Vegas Review-Journal about Zinke’s recommendations for Gold Butte and Basin and Range, the two Obama-era monuments under review in Nevada.(Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Process, no details

Along with its press release announcing the completion of the monument review on Thursday, the Interior Department issued what it called a summary of the report that recapped the process but did not mention any monuments by name or include any of Zinke’s recommendations.

The White House said only that Zinke’s “draft” report is now being studied by the president, who ordered the review of 22 national monuments created by presidential decree since Jan. 1, 1996.

All Zinke has said about his findings is that he recommended boundary reductions for a “handful” of sites but did not call for any monuments to be rescinded altogether. He declined say which monuments he wants to downsize.

Quoting unnamed sources, The New York Times has reported that at least four sites are on the chopping block. The Washington Post identified three of them as Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.

In June, Zinke called for an unspecified boundary reduction for Bears Ears. According to The New York Times, which cited “congressional aides and others who have been briefed on the report,” Zinke was considering reducing Bears Ears by almost 90 percent, from 1.35 million acres to about 160,000 acres.

Any move to shrink or eliminate the national monuments under review is expected to be challenged in court by advocates.

‘Very frustrating’

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., said a number of his constituents have contacted him, anxious for answers, since Zinke’s report went to the White House. But Kihuen said he has been left in the dark like everyone else, even though his congressional district includes both Gold Butte and Basin and Range.

“It’s very frustrating to not be able to report back to them because this secretary and this administration refuse to provide any information,” he said.

The latest Freedom of Information Act request seeking to force the release of Zinke’s monument recommendations was filed Friday by the conservation groups Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

“Public lands and oceans are a public trust,” said Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh in a written statement. “Secret plans to raid those resources, forged behind closed doors, violate that trust.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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