Public Land

Local Business Leaders Urge Trump to Leave National Monuments Alone

As Americans prepare for the winter holiday season, and as the Trump Administration prepares to announce its final actions on the future of the nation’s public lands, small business owners from across the nation called on the White House to reject Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendation to reduce several National Monuments.

Why are these business leaders speaking up now?

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has visited Nevada twice since he announced the Trump Administration’s monuments review. Yet both times, Zinke declined to hold any public hearings. And when Zinke toured Gold Butte National Monument late in July, he did so without meeting any local elected officials or community leaders who want to keep Gold Butte fully protected.

Last week, nearly 50 of Nevada’s business leaders joined over 500 other business leaders across the nation in sending a letter to Gary Cohn, Director of the White House’s National Economic Council, and Linda McMahon, Administrator of the Small Business Administration. In the letter, they urged Cohn, McMahon, and President Donald Trump to keep in place current protections for Nevada’s own Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments, two monuments in Utah, and all other monuments across the nation.

“Monuments attract tourists. […] They make economic development sustainable.”
– Michele Burkett, Mesquite

Michele Burkett works as a realtor in Mesquite, and she’s a long-time advocate for protecting Gold Butte. On a press call last week, Burkett explained the economic value of Gold Butte National Monument. “Monuments attract tourists. They grow real estate values. They make economic development sustainable.”

Burkett continued, “We are a tourist town. We have just barely recovered, so sustainability is very important to us.” She then alluded to nearby areas’ success in marketing their protected public lands, such as the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, as desirable destinations. “We compete with other tourist destinations. We need a reason for people to get off the freeway.”

“Our voices have been ignored in this process. […] Each invite was declined or ignored.”
– Suzanne Catlett, Escalante and Boulder Chamber of Commerce

Burkett is not alone in seeing the economic value of sound environmental stewardship. Suzanne Catlett serves as President of the Escalante and Boulder Chamber of Commerce in Southern Utah. She debunked the notion that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has somehow hurt the regional economy, then pointed to restaurants, retail, lodging, and health care services that have set up shop in Escalante thanks to the monument. “Our monument has [given us] amenities that we wouldn’t otherwise have with a community of only 800 residents,” Catlett said.

Catlett then echoed the complaints that Nevada public lands advocates have made regarding the public’s lack of opportunities to speak with Zinke about protecting public lands. Catlett described Zinke’s lack of outreach to her community this way: “Our voices have been ignored in this process. […] Each invite was declined or ignored.”

“If the monuments are left alone, we are preserving nature and culture […] and our economy. It’s a win-win.”
– Suzanne Catlett, Escalante and Boulder Chamber of Commerce

Trump will likely make a final announcement on the future of several monuments some time next month. It’s currently unclear what Trump will say about Gold Butte and Basin and Range, but he is expected to reduce the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bear’s Ears National Monuments in Utah in order to open more public lands to mining and fossil fuel drilling.

During last week’s press call, Burkett indicated that most Mesquite locals would not welcome a reduction of the monument or weakening of its protections. “Any change to the national monument would be an unprecedented change. […] I don’t believe we deserve that change.”

Catlett then issued this plea to the Trump Administration as they near a final decision on the monuments: “If the monuments are left alone, we are preserving nature and culture […] and our economy. It’s a win-win.”

Cover photo provided by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

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