Interior head says Patagonia claim about public land 'a lie'

FILE - This July 15, 2016, file photo, shows the "Moonhouse" in McLoyd Canyon which is part of Bears Ears National Monument, near Blanding, Utah. President Donald Trump's rare move to shrink two large national monuments in Utah triggered another round of outrage among Native American leaders who vowed to unite and take the fight to court to preserve protections for lands they consider sacred. Trump decided to reduce Bears Ears — created last December by President Barack Obama — by about 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante — designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton — by nearly half. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is strongly disputing a claim by outdoor retailer Patagonia that President Donald Trump "stole" public land by shrinking two national monuments in Utah

WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday accused outdoor retailer Patagonia of lying when it said that President Donald Trump "stole your land" by shrinking two national monuments in Utah by some 2 million acres.

An angry Zinke called the claim — made in large type on the company's home page — "nefarious, false and a lie."

Zinke told reporters the land targeted by Trump remains protected because it is still under federal control.

"I understand fundraising for these special interest groups," Zinke said. "I think it's shameful and appalling that they would blatantly lie in order to gain money in their coffers."

Patagonia replaced its usual home page Monday night with a stark message declaring, "The President Stole Your Land." The message called Trump's actions to shrink Utah's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments "illegal" and the largest elimination of protected land in American history.

Outdoor retailer REI also criticized Trump but in less harsh language.

Zinke took a defiant tone in a conference call with reporters, saying, "I don't yield to pressure, only higher principle. And sound public policy is not based on threats of lawsuits, it's doing what's right."

Patagonia has "always viewed public lands as our special interest," said company spokeswoman Corley Kenna. "And it's odd that Ryan Zinke has no problem with special interests when they're paying for his private jets. We have been fighting for these lands for decades, so that hunters, fishers, hikers and everyone else can use them and help us protect them."

Patagonia is expected to file a lawsuit challenging the Bears Ears decision as soon as Wednesday. The company has joined with REI and other outdoor recreation companies in leading a push to move the industry's lucrative trade show from Salt Lake City to Denver after two decades in Utah. The move was a high-profile protest over Utah leaders' insistence on getting the Bears Ears designation rescinded and trying to take more control of federal lands.

Zinke argued that Bears Ears is still larger than Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks combined even after being downsized to about 202,000 acres (315 square miles) while Grand Staircase-Escalante retains about 1 million acres (about 1,500 square miles.)

Environmental and conservation groups and a coalition of tribes filed lawsuits Monday that ensure Trump's announcement is far from the final word in the yearslong battle over public lands in Utah and other Western states. The court cases are likely to drag on for years.

A coalition of the Hopi, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni tribes and Navajo Nation sued late Monday to challenge the Bears Ears reduction, which cuts monument status for the rugged land in southeastern Utah by about 85 percent. Bears Ears features thousands of Native American artifacts, including ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.

The tribes argue that federal law only gives presidents the ability to create a national monument, not the ability to downsize one.

Two lawsuits also have been filed to try to block the Grand Staircase decision, which cuts the monument nearly in half. Grand Staircase contains scenic cliffs, canyons, waterfalls and arches — and one of the nation's largest known coal reserves.

The two monuments were created by Democrats Barack Obama and Bill Clinton under a century-old law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historically, geographically or culturally important.

Trump acted on a recommendation by Zinke, who also has urged that two other large national monuments in the West be reduced in size, potentially opening up thousands of acres of land revered for natural beauty and historical significance to mining, logging and other development.

The interior secretary's plan would scale back Nevada's Gold Butte and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou, in addition to the two Utah sites.

Zinke said Tuesday he would focus changes in Gold Butte on the site's water districts. Gold Butte protects nearly 300,000 acres of desert landscapes featuring rock art, sandstone towers and wildlife habitat for the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise and other species.

Zinke declined to specify how many acres he wants to remove from monument status, stressing that the administration is working with Nevada's governor and congressional delegation to find a solution.

Similarly, Zinke declined specifics on Cascade-Siskiyou, which protects about 113,000 acres in an area where three mountain ranges converge. Changes will center on recent expansion of the site, which was first created by Clinton in 2000. Much of the additional land is on private property, while some is on land previously designated for timber production, Zinke said.

Zinke also has recommended allowing logging at a newly designated monument in Maine and urges more grazing, hunting and fishing at two sites in New Mexico. He also calls for a new assessment of border-safety risks at a monument in southern New Mexico.

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Associated Press writer Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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