SANTA FE, N.M. — Back in January, I was among dozens of New Mexico faith leaders who signed a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke expressing how much we treasure our national monuments. The words of the letter still ring true:
“… local faith communities and tribes continue to access and use these sacred lands as they have for generations. Whether gathering herbs, interpreting petroglyphs, collecting firewood, picking piñon nuts, grazing, hiking, fishing, hunting or prayerfully meditating on the beauty of God’s creation, protecting the monument designations for the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains Desert Peaks will continue to safeguard New Mexico’s and America’s rich cultural and spiritual heritage.
“As leaders of faith and stewards of God’s creation, we urge you to work to ensure the continued existence of, funding for, and access to America’s public lands and not allow efforts to roll back or shrink these National Monuments to succeed.”
Since we first contacted him in January, the path Secretary Zinke has chosen has shown disregard for our guidance and disrespect for our communities.
One of the first tasks President Trump assigned Secretary Zinke was to “review” national monuments established since 1996 and assess whether they should be closed, diminished or eliminated. Secretary Zinke had mere months to determine the fate of dozens of our country’s national monuments. The Secretary could have told President Trump that this was an inappropriate, impossible assignment. Instead, he did the President’s bidding.
When the Department of Interior opened a public comment period for dozens of national monuments, the public outpouring of support was overwhelming. More than two million people urged Secretary Zinke to uphold national monument protections for our public lands.
After the comment period, Secretary Zinke did a series of whirlwind visits to states where he was considering shrinking, cutting off access or eliminating national monuments. His short visit to New Mexico was an insult to decades of hard work by our communities to protect our public lands. In New Mexico, Secretary Zinke chose to hold no public meetings – despite the offer by many New Mexico community members to host a public forum. Moreover, Pueblos and Tribal Nations – who have the largest stake in the fate of their ancestral lands – have been marginalized from Secretary Zinke’s review process.