Center for American Progress

Interior Secretary Zinke’s Contradictory Pardon Process

Interior Secretary Zinke’s Contradictory Pardon Process

Applying Secretary Zinke’s reasoning to the U.S. national monuments that are currently under threat should cause all of them to be pardoned.

A hiker walks on a rock formation in the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona, May 28, 2013. (AP/Brian Witte)
A hiker walks on a rock formation in the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona, May 28, 2013. (AP/Brian Witte)

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is playing games with our national parks and monuments, treating them like contestants on a reality show, to be voted off one at time. It is all part of a sham review of 27 national monuments ordered by President Donald Trump this past April. On August 24, Secretary Zinke is expected to make his final recommendations to President Trump, which could result in national monuments being closed or significantly altered.

Over the past several weeks, Zinke has “pardoned” several of the sites on his official review list. While it’s hard to make heads or tails of what is actually driving these decisions behind the scenes, Zinke has offered brief public explanations.

For example, Zinke cited the human history of “high-density Native American archaeological sites” in his exemption of  Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. For Craters of the Moon, the reasoning was its “living timeline of geologic history.” He argued that Hanford Reach in Washington state has “some of the best fishing and bird hunting around” for sportsmen and women. In his statement pardoning Grand Canyon-Parashant, he highlighted that the monument illustrates “the scientific history of our earth while containing thousands of years of human relics and fossils.” In his most recent pardoning of Sand to Snow, he cited the monument’s “incredible geographic, biologic, and archaeological history of our nation”—a statement which could very well apply to every national monument.

If one were to set aside the fact that this review is driven by politics—not merit—and instead take Zinke at his word, it would follow that any monuments that allow for great hunting, have unique geologies, include areas of scientific interest, or honor the nation’s history will also be pardoned.

So, let’s play along! The chart below identifies which monuments might clear Zinke’s publicly declared criteria for national monument status—and they all do.


To apply Zinke’s criteria to all of the national monuments, the authors used the presidential proclamations that established these monuments; a scientific analysis of ecological and geologic indicators; hunting and fishing industry websites; and government land management websites to determine if these monuments could be winners in Secretary Zinke’s monument game. While there are a multitude of reasons why these monuments are and should continue to be protected, this analysis is limited to these sources and Zinke’s narrow criteria.

Basin and Range, Nevada
Hunters and anglers have advocated for the preservation of this monument, while scientists and geologists have used this monument to understand the 500 million-year history of the region. Additionally, this monument preserves a high concentration of rock art and thousands of years of cultural history.

Bears Ears, Utah
Sportsmen and women have hunted elk and mule deer in this area for many years, and the area is estimated to contain more than 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites.

Berryessa Snow Mountain, California
This monument is more geologically unique than 56 percent of all similarly sized areas in the West and is one of the best monuments to visit for hunting and fishing.

Carrizo Plain, California
Created by the San Andreas Fault, this monument is home to many diverse fossils from 13 to 25 million years ago and contains Soda Lake, the largest remaining natural alkali wetland in Southern California.

Cascade-Siskiyou, Oregon
The geological history of this area, paired with the mixing of rock types, has created unique and complex soil that contributes to biological diversity in this area.

Giant Sequoia, California
This monument is home to some of the oldest trees on earth, is geologically more unique than 81 percent of all similarly sized areas in the West, and houses many archaeological sites, such as lithic scatters, food-processing sites, rock shelters, village sites, petroglyphs, and pictographs.

Gold Butte, Nevada
This monument is more geologically unique than 56 percent of all similarly sized areas in the West. It also preserves culturally important land containing archaeological sites and is considered sacred to some Native American tribes.

Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah
Home to more than 20,000 archaeological sites, this monument provides geologists, paleontologists, archeologists, historians, and biologists with incredible amounts of land and resources for scientific research, education, and exploration. And a number of never-before-seen Cretaceous-period dinosaurs have been discovered in the monument since it’s designation.

Ironwood Forest, Arizona
This monument contains two places that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, abundant rock art sites, and other archeological objects of scientific and historical interest.

Katahdin Woods and Waters, Maine
The land protected in this monument has been home to Native Americans for more than 11,000 years, and researchers conclude that there are many objects of historical and scientific interest.

Mojave Trails, California
Paleontologists swarm to Mojave Trails to study the copious amounts of fossils found there, while geologists use this monument to study the unique terrain formed from volcanic activity. Plus, archaeologists take advantage of the petroglyphs, pictographs, old trails, and stone work that trace back to human life 10,000 years ago.

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, New Mexico
This monument is more geologically unique than 71 percent of all similarly sized areas in the West, attracts many sportsmen and fishermen to the area, and contains 10,000 years of vibrant and diverse human history.

Rio Grande del Norte, New Mexico
This monument is valued by hunters and anglers for its pronghorn, elk, and world-class fisheries; is home to dense collections of petroglyphs; and is more geologically unique than 57 percent of all similarly sized areas in the West.

San Gabriel Mountains, California
This area is more geologically unique than 89 percent of all similarly sized areas in the West and preserves the history of Native Americans, Spanish missionaries and colonialists, Mexican rancheros, and Euro-American settlers and prospectors.

Sonoran Desert, Arizona
This desert is the most biologically diverse of the North American deserts and is home to many important historic trails and significant archaeological and historic sites, including rock art sites, lithic quarries, and scattered artifacts.

Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona
This geologic treasure was also the site of many historic expeditions and contains many unique biological treasures that are a result of the monument’s remoteness.

Marianas Trench, Pacific Ocean
This trench is the deepest place on Earth and contains some of the most diverse sets of coral, seamount and hydrothermal vent life yet discovered.

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Atlantic Ocean
This monument protects three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon as well as four underwater mountains—known as “seamounts”—that are biodiversity hotspots and home to many rare and endangered species.

Pacific Remote Islands, Pacific Ocean
These islands played an instrumental role in securing the U.S. territorial claim over the islands and ultimately Hawaii. The monument also protects many undersea mountains that are the subject of geological and scientific research.

Papahānaumokuākea, Hawaii/Pacific Ocean
This monument is home to the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserves wayfinder navigational training, and remains one of the world’s last predator-dominated coral reef ecosystems on the planet.

Rose Atoll, American Samoa/Pacific Ocean
This monument preserves marine and terrestrial communities that provide a unique opportunity for research and afford an invaluable scientific baseline for biological and geological studies of the low Pacific islands.

Kate Kelly is the director of Public Lands at the Center for American Progress. Jenny Rowland is the research and advocacy manager for Public Lands at the Center. Maya Patel is an intern on the Public Lands team at the Center.

The authors would like to thank Emily Haynes, Lauren Kokum, Erin Whalen, and Tricia Woodcome for their work on this column.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Kate Kelly

Director, Public Lands

Jenny Rowland-Shea

Director, Public Lands

Maya Patel