Nevada Democrats fault Interior chief over canceled meetings
LAS VEGAS — Elected Democrats and an Indian tribal leader in Nevada criticized Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday for canceling meetings with advocates after his tour of two national monuments on a list of sites the Trump administration is considering cutting in size.
Chris Giunchigliani, a Clark County commissioner, said during a demonstration at the Las Vegas offices of several political advocacy groups that she felt Nevada had been “disrespected.”
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus said she believed Zinke never wanted to meet with advocates.
“They turned it into a political event instead of … getting good information about the value of our monuments,” Titus said.
Zinke said he shortened his trip for what would be a Cabinet meeting in Washington involving President Donald Trump’s top appointees.
Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Chairman Darren Daboda complained that Indians with cultural ties to the areas were treated “like second-class citizens.”
“These areas are who we are. It’s part of our DNA to protect for future generations,” Daboda said.
The Interior Department fired back with a statement calling the critics’ claims “patently false.”
It said Zinke did all he could after arriving in Nevada from New Mexico over the weekend to tour the monuments and meet with people on Sunday.
He “met with advocates on all sides of the issue, just as he has at every other previous monument stop,” said the statement provided by Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift.
Daboda said his tribal board planned a conference call Monday with Zinke.
U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen accused Zinke of breaking a promise to meet with the public before making a decision on the monuments that is due in about a month.
“He chose to dodge meetings with important stakeholders and shut out the community by shortening his planned visit,” Kihuen said.
Zinke aides told reporters Sunday evening that he had several people with him when he viewed areas that included artist Michael Heizer’s massive earth sculpture called “City” and petroglyph-rich sites in the Basin and Range monument, and the Falling Man rock art site in Gold Butte.
Zinke said he didn’t expect to return to Nevada before making a recommendation to Trump on whether to pare down the Gold Butte monument between the Virgin River and Arizona state line and a vast swath of rangeland across the central state dubbed the Basin and Range monument.
Combined, the two Nevada monuments cover some 1,500 square miles (3,885 square kilometers), an area half the size of Delaware.
Giunchigliani said studies show that nearly three in four Nevadans support protection against development that President Barack Obama declared last year for the two Nevada monuments.
“We do not need to shrink our monuments. Period,” the Clark County lawmaker said. “We’ll come wherever. But you need to give an opportunity for the people who live in the state of Nevada to voice their concerns.”
Presidents have created more than 200 national monuments since Congress passed the Antiquities Act of 1906. Zinke has said monuments have been adjusted in size 18 times before.