Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 24, 20176min338

The long-awaited review of national monuments designated by other presidents over the last two decades landed, sort of, Thursday. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he has sent President Trump a plan that would preserve all 27 monuments as federal assets, including Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients, but some could shrink.

The Interior Department didn’t release the plan and hasn’t gone into specifics about where boundaries in which monuments could retreat.

“No President should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object,” Zinke said in a statement Thursday. “The recommendations I sent to the president on national monuments will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and also provide a much needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses, and recreation.”

Environmental groups are expected to fight the plan in court, The Washington Post reported Thursday afternoon.

Zinke has given Colorado leaders assurances about Canyons of the Ancients, the lone entry from the state on the monuments hit list.

“​​Canyons of the Ancients​ ​is​ gorgeous land, but its monument status as the most high-density Native American archaeological sites in the Nation​ is clear,” Zinke said in a statement last month. “The history at this site spans thousands of years, and the federal protection of these objects and history ​will help us preserve this site for a thousand more years.”

The lack of details Thursday made it difficult for would-be opponents to react. Though relieved that none of the monuments will be entirely delisted, the details about where the reductions would come could change opinions dramatically.

Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, noted the “zero specifics” in the announcement.

“President Trump and Secretary Zinke have done the unthinkable and attacked our national parks and monuments despite tremendous public support for them,” Scott Braden, wilderness and public lands advocate at Conservation Colorado. “The fact that Colorado’s national monuments were spared from tampering is a Pyrrhic victory; it is a sad day for every Coloradan who values and cherishes our nation’s proud legacy of protecting national parks and public lands.

“Keeping the public in the dark on the actual recommendations speaks volumes about the poor quality and lack of transparency that has characterized the entire process. We will continue to fight for parks and public lands in Colorado, which we fully expect to continue to be targets of this reckless administration.”

Conservation Colorado said there were more than 2.7 million public comments in favor of protecting our nation’s monuments were submitted during the review, and the monuments were defended by the editorial boards of newspapers across Colorado.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Denver, said keeping the plan secret is “further proof that this ill-conceived and unnecessary review process is not in the best interest of local communities and tribes.”

He continued, “Despite claims of transparency, it is troubling that Secretary Zinke would leave the American public in the dark, while the president decides the fate of our public land and water.​”

Monuments are preserved from drilling and most other development because of their rich national treasurers, but they have become lightning rods for politics, as well. Republican leaders in Utah forced the political issue with President Trump after President Obama designated millions of acres in southeast Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument in December.

The public lands fight in Utah has been layered but aggressive since the Sagebrush Rebellion days decades ago, as locals seek more access to public lands for grazing, energy development and other boosts to state and local economies.

Monuments were created by the Antiquities Act of 1906 under President Theodore Roosevelt to allow presidents to set aside landmarks, buildings and other “objects of historic or scientific interest” on federal government. Roosevelt immediately established 18 monuments, including the Grand Canyon.

Most are protected by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the U.S. Forest Service. Opponents see federal oversight as insufficient to maintain the properties, or over-restrictive in allow public access.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comments from Conservation Colorado and Sen. Michael Bennet.


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 17, 20175min561

The League of Conservation Voters, a left-leaning environmental group, plans to spend $100,000 on ads to “urge” Rep. Doug Lamborn, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other three other members to Congress to back off national monuments.

Zinke is reviewing large national monuments designated by presidents since 1996, including the Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah. Colorado leaders have received assurances that Canyons of the Ancients near Cortez won’t be on the hit list.

Zinke’s report is due in a week, Aug. 24.

The campaign also targets Republican Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Doug LaMalfa of California.

National monument status protects valued American assets from energy production and other development, say supporters.

The League of Conservation voters notes that Lamborn is a membrer of the “anti-public lands Congressional Western Caucus” and supports Zinke’s review.

In 2015, when President Obama set aside 21,000 in Browns Canyon between Buena Vista and Poncha Springs as a national monument, Lamborn said he was outraged because of its grazing and water resources.

Lamborn called it “a top-down, big-government land grab by the president that disenfranchises the concerned citizens in the Browns Canyon region.”

In a statement released by the Western Caucus in June about a letter of support to Zinke, Laumborn said:

“In its original conception, the Antiquities Act was intended to protect ruins and artifacts on federal lands. Since then, the law has become another tool for federal overreach that allows the federal government to control large areas of land without any input from Congress. I am pleased to join many of my colleagues in the Western Caucus in this letter to Secretary Zinke. Our letter recommends that the Department of the Interior review monument designations—including marine monuments and several sites in the West. I believe that this review of monuments will allow for greater state control of fisheries and better management of our natural resources and recreation areas.”

Coloradans cherish public lands, said Scott Braden, the wilderness and public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization.

“While the Trump administration’s mysterious review criteria spared Canyons of the Ancients, this unprecedented attack opens the door to drastic changes to public lands across the West,” Braden said in a statement released by the League of Conservation Voters.

Lamborn’s office declined to comment about the ads, which started running Wednesday on Facebook and Instagram.

Another set of ads urge Americans to call Zinke’s office to oppose reclassifying or amending monuments.

“It’s time for Secretary Zinke to stop playing games with our public lands, our waters and our national monuments,” Gene Karpinski, the league’s president, said in a statement. “People across the country have spoken out and shared their stories of the value these special places bring their communities, from boosting local economies to preserving our cultural heritage for the next generation.

“But Zinke is treating our national monuments like contestants on a reality TV show, and his anti-public lands allies in Congress are enabling this dangerous agenda. Let’s be clear: If the Trump administration attempts to revoke protections for our national monuments, the millions of families who hike, fish, and enjoy our parks and public lands won’t sit on the sidelines while they sell out these special places to polluters.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include other members of Congress who are the focus of other ads.


Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 23, 20177min352

With some of the top Republicans in the nation in the Mile High City this week for the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Western Conservative Summit, news moved swiftly as D.C. came to Denver.

Here are the stories that Colorado Politics’ staff thinks had the biggest impact. Agree? Disagree? Comment below.


This Wednesday, July 27, 2016, photo, a biker rides along a trail in Salt Lake City. More than 100 million acres of America's most rugged landscapes designated as wilderness are off-limits to mountain bikers, but two U.S. Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, both Utah Republicans, have introduced legislation that would allow bikers to join hikers and horseback riders in those scenic, undisturbed areas. The proposal is controversial within the biking community and opposed by conservationists who say bikes would erode trails and upset the five-decade notion of wilderness as primitive spaces. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
This Wednesday, July 27, 2016, photo, a biker rides along a trail in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

5. Republican pedaling, uh, peddling a tax hike

Republican Ray Scott of Grand Junction proposes a tax hike Democrats don’t seem to like: taxing adult bicycles that use the roads the same as heavily taxed cars and trucks. Oregon recently passed a tax on bikes, but it was a Democratic governor’s plan, with Republicans howling about another new tax. Can it pass here?

Read the full story here.


Students at Cole Arts & Science Academy, a north Denver innovation school that is among Denver Public Schools’ school-choice offerings. (Photo courtesy of colecasa.org)

4. School choice is working in Colorado, says GOP leaders

Democratic-led protesters rallied against the visit of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in Denver this week for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual meeting, but it was home-grown Republicans such as Treasurer Walker Stapleton and state Rep. Owen Hill who made the best case for more options in education. “Welcome to Denver, Colo., living proof that charter schools work,” Stapleton said.

Read the full story here.


Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow
Jay Sekulow, a personal lawyer for President Trump, talks to reporters Saturday night after his speech at the Western Conservative Summit. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

3. Collusion? It’s whatever Donald Trump didn’t do, says his lawyer

Colorado Politics got one shot at asking the president’s personal lawyer to define collusion Saturday night at the Western Conservative Summit. Rather than the dictionary definition, “a secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy,” Jay Sekulow reached for a law book. We reported how one of the nation’s top attorneys for religious liberty tackled the word in relation to the Trump campaign’s dealings with the Russians.

Read the full story here.


Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (BLM Photo)
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (BLM Photo)

2. Canyon of the Ancients gets a new lease on life

Attention, people who love the national monument near Cortez: The rich archaeological and environmental treasure Canyons of the Ancients is safe from being taken off the federal register for protections. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in Colorado at the end of the week, said this week that it won’t modified by President Trump. “Canyons of the Ancients is gorgeous land,” he said.

Read the full story here.


iStock image / Kagenmi

1. House salad: Former party boss says no green for GOP senators 

Former state Republican Party Chairman Steve House has a way to inspire Republican lawmakers to repeal and replace Obamacare that could take a bite out of the resistance. He said people should withhold donations to re-elect GOP senators until they do the job most Republicans elected them to do on healthcare. Granted, it was only a small handful of Republicans in the narrowly divided Senate, but everybody would help pay the campaign tab.

Read the full story here.


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 21, 20173min444

Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument near Cortez is no longer under review and will remain protected, federal officials announced on Friday.

The historic cultural landscape was under review per an executive order by President Trump, which could have meant it would have lost its critical monument status. But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is speaking in Denver on Friday, announced that the landscape would remain protected.

“When the President and I began the monument review process we absolutely realized that not all monuments are the same and that not all monuments would require modifications,” Zinke said in a statement. “Canyons of the Ancients is gorgeous land, but its monument status as the most high-density Native American archaeological sites in the nation is clear. The history at this site spans thousands of years, and the federal protection of these objects and history will help us preserve this site for a thousand more years.”

Several members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, along with Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, had urged the Trump administration not to change its national monument status. The elected officials representing Colorado had received assurances that the monument would remain protected, though certainty was not issued until Friday.

The southwest Colorado monument offers a journey through history, as visitors travel back in time to learn about ancestral Puebloan culture and the area’s fragile resources near the Four Corners region. The landscape received national monument status in 2000, protecting its 178,000 acres.

“This is great news for Colorado and I’m thrilled the Department of the Interior listened to Coloradans and will make no changes to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument’s designation,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican.

“I repeatedly raised the issue with Secretary Zinke and highlighted the fact that Coloradans cherish our state’s public lands and any review of Canyons of the Ancients should result in no changes to the monument’s designation. The Secretary has been a great partner throughout his tenure and understands Western issues better than most. I’m proud to have worked with him on this and look forward to continuing to collaborate on issues important to Colorado in the future.”

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican who is from Cortez and represents the district the monument is located in, said Zinke recognized the cultural and historic significance.

“Senator Gardner and I made the case for maintaining the monument as is in May, and I have been encouraged to see the secretary place a high value on local input throughout this process,” Tipton said.


Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 20, 20173min373
Generation Latino is taking a message to Colorado Springs and Pueblo: The Latino community has a lot at stake in environmental conservation. Advocates and leaders will gather petition signatures defending public lands in the Springs Thursday morning and meet with the staff of Sen. Cory Gardner at his office in Pueblo Thursday afternoon. The event […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 16, 20176min454
Bears Ears National Monument
This May 8 photo shows an aerial view of Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument revealing the vast landscape protected by President Obama on Dec. 28. (Photo by Francisco Kjolseth /The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet wants to know if  the U.S. Forest Service is asleep at the switch as the Trump administration aims to trim Bears Ears National Monument.

Bennet and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, sent a letter Thursday to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who oversees the Forest Service, asking pointed questions about how much of a fight the agency put up to defend its part of the southeast monument.

You can read the letter here.

The 1.35-million acre monument was designated by President Obama in December. In April President Trump asked for a review 27 national monuments of more than 100,000 acres each that were designated by previous presidents since Jan. 1, 1996. The review includes a pending decision on the Canyons of the Ancients near Cortez.

Map locates Bears Ears National Monument in Utah; 1c x 3 inches; 46.5 mm x 76 mm;

“Coloradans respect and value our public lands, because we understand that our public lands system is unique among all the countries in the world,” Bennet and fellow Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner said in a letter to Zinke last month. “Canyons is a significant piece of that uniqueness given the history that is preserved there.

Gov. John Hickenlooper got a personal assurance from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that the Canyons of the Ancients would be spared.

Monday Zinke said the size of Bears Ears, however, could be reduced, but he didn’t say by how much or where. Conservationists had worried about the elimination of the monument, which includes sacred American Indian historical sites.

“The area around Bears Ears has the highest density of archaeological sites. I don’t think there’s any dispute about that,” Zinke said, according to USA Today. “But if you look at the Bears Ears as a whole, there is a lot more drop-dead gorgeous land than there is historic landmarks and historic structures.”

The conservation-versus-commerce fight in Utah has been a national flashpoint in the public lands debate for years, but with a supportive Trump administration, the scales are tipped toward drilling and development.

Bennet points out in his letter than Bears Ears includes almost 300,000 acres of forested highlands in the Manti La-Sal National Forest.

He specifically presses the question of legal authority.

‘While the Antiquities Act authorizes the president to designate national monuments, there does not appear to be any authority within the act to reduce the size of the monuments,” Bennet’s letter states, signaling a fight he’s eager to have with the Trump administration.

Bennet is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources. Stabenow holds the same position in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Scott Braden, the wilderness and public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, called Zinke’s proposal a “slap in the face to all of us who care about and cherish our country’s national parks and monuments.”

He said Zinke is shortchanging cultural sites and public opinion to “attempt to appease Utah’s hard-right congressional delegation, a few county commissioners and Trump’s base.”

Braden said it is all too familiar a pattern for the federal government to go back on its word to native people.

“Coloradans should rid themselves of any harbored hopes that the President Trump or his loyal subordinates like Secretary Zinke will somehow be moderate on public lands issues,’ he said. “Their assault on public lands is real, and none of Colorado’s public lands are safe from it. Indeed, in Colorado, Trump has already attacked our Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, initiated a review of the collaborative greater sage grouse plan, and attempted to fast track a coal mine expansion into a roadless area. Colorado’s elected leaders must stand up to this malevolent administration.”

Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 15, 20176min337

From the time she entered the legislature in 2015, state Sen. Kerry Donovan saw the discussion of public lands creeping out to the extreme. And appreciating the peace, beauty and economic necessity is anything but an extreme Colorado view, said the lawmaker for the heart of the state’s central mountains.

“Public Lands Day was an attempt to bring a positive message to that — to play offense rather than defense,” Donovan told Colorado Politics in the dome of the state Capitol last week

Last year the Democrat and rancher passed what at first looked like a long-shot bill: to create the country’s first statewide Public Lands Day. That happens at more than 100 locations across the state next Saturday, with the help of Conservation Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, the folk fusion band Elephant Revival, 18 brew pubs and a host of sponsors.

Colorado Politics told you about many of the events last week, but you can find out the latest on Conservation Colorado’s website for the day.

Just as you can see Long’s Peak from vantages hundreds of miles apart, Coloradans see public lands the same way.

Donovan was able to pass the measure because Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling let it out of the committee he chaired, but then voted against it on the floor.

The measure passed the Senate 28-7 and the House 39-26 to hold the observance on the third Saturday in May each year.

Sonnenberg’s reason wasn’t to encourage to go hug trees but to go see what a bad job the federal government does at managing forests and other public property. He and other leading statehouse Republicans would like to see more management authority returned to the states, and especially to local communities.

But to folks like Pete Maysmith, the chief of Conservation Colorado, that sounds like making public lands private to engage in more drilling and development.

Since Public Lands Day passed last year, Colorado’s conservation and outdoor recreation community has watched Utah fight over public lands.

A major outdoor retail show is leaving Salt Lake City because of Utah Republicans’ push to move the federal government out of its public lands issues.

Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill to sell off 3 million acres of federal lands, including tracts in Colorado, in January, before yanking the legislation in the backlash.

The GOP pushback amped up after President Obama set aside 1.35 million acres in southeast Utah the Bears Ears National Monument in December. President Trump has ordered a review of all monuments designated over the last 21 years that are more than 100,000 acres.

In Colorado, that puts the Canyons of the Ancients near Cortez in jeopardy.

“The national politics have changed, certainly since the election in November,” Maysmith said. “When we see things like national monuments, the Canyons of the Ancients and others here in Colorado and nationally, that are potentially at risk of being rolled back or undone that doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Republicans, however, say Democrats are overstating the case, that no one is going to harm the most treasured public lands. But by being over-protective against the responsible use of federal lands — much as it goes on now with mineral leases and private ski resorts in national forests — the left blocks revenue that could help better care for public lands. They also block jobs and taxes for local communities.

They point to the massive pine beetle infestation in Colorado, to which the federal government didn’t respond quickly or adequately enough. State and local control, with adequate resources from economic activity, would be a better way to manage them.

President Trump has ordered deep budget cuts for those very agencies.

Public Lands Day is an opportunity for both sides to have that discussion, or reflect on the issues, while enjoying Colorado’s great outdoors.