U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was expected to make a stop Sunday in the hometown of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher accused of organizing an armed standoff three years ago that forced federal agents to end a roundup of his cattle.
Zinke’s planned stop in Bunkerville, Nevada – about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas – is part of his tour of national monuments being scrutinized by the Trump administration.
Trump announced the review of 27 monuments in May, saying the designations imposed by previous presidents amounted to a massive federal land grab. Monument designations protect federal land from energy development and other activities.
Zinke plans the stop in Bunkerville ahead of visits Monday to the nearby Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments, which cover a combined 1,500 square miles (3,885 sq. kilometers) – more than half the size of Delaware.
Gold Butte is the grazing area at the center of the cattle round-up and armed standoff in April 2014 involving Bundy and federal land management agents.
The monument is home to pioneer-era and Native American artifacts, and rare and threatened wildlife, including the Mojave desert tortoise and desert bighorn sheep.
A recent study by the Bureau of Land Management documented nearly 400 ancient rock art panels and more than 3,500 individual petroglyphs scattered throughout the Gold Butte area
President Obama designated the Gold Butte National Monument in 2016 under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Bundy argues that the federal government has no jurisdiction in such vast rangelands of the West.
He and four of his sons are in jail awaiting federal trial on felony charges that they organized an armed insurrection to turn away Bureau of Land Management agents and contract cowboys and to release cattle collected from the Gold Butte range.
Federal officials say the bureau, an agency within the Interior Department, was trying to enforce court orders issued for Bundy’s yearslong failure to pay federal grazing fees.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, recently made a two-minute videotape and Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat running for Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s seat in 2018, sent a letter to Zinke urging him to keep his hands off Nevada’s natural treasures.
In addition to preserving cultural history, native wildlife and scenic beauty, Gold Butte and Basin and Range generate more than $150 annually for Nevada’s economy, they said.
“Apparently the 2.7 public comments submitted in favor of keeping these monuments were not enough to help Mr. Zinke make up his mind,” Masto, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee overseeing the Interior Department, said about a public comment period that closed earlier this month.
Outdoor retailer Patagonia took out two full page ads in the state’s largest newspaper Sunday in support of the two Nevada national monuments.
On Friday, Zinke took a helicopter tour of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico and held a roundtable event with ranchers, county commissioners and university professors.
Last week, he removed Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument from the list under review. He previously dropped two others, one in Idaho and one in Washington state. A full report is due next month.