By Stan Bush
DENVER (CBS4) – Canyons of the Ancients’ national monument status is no longer under review, but conservationists are still seething over the review that targeted the area and 26 other national monuments.
Before appearing at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that Canyons of the Ancients National Monument was being removed from the 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. 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,” says Zinke in a statement.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument was formed by President Clinton in 2000 using the Antiquities Act. The 178-thousand acres conservation area is considered the richest archeological site in the world. Several native tribes trace their lineage to the area and ancient pueblos there date back 1,000 years.
The Interior Department cited letters from Colorado Republicans Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton.
“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,” say Sen. Gardner in the same statement.
Conservationists say the review is targeting two monuments in Utah and attacking the Presidents who made them; Bears Ears and Grand Staircase – Escalante.
“It is partially about the Obama legacy and they don’t like anything with the name Obama and Clinton … but its also about oil & gas and coal,” says Aaron Weiss with the Center for Western Priorities.
Weiss says the review is thinly veiled political revenge made clear by Secretary Zinke’s own response to one of the monuments under review.
In late June Zinke announced the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, Zinke’s home state, would not suffer any changes to it’s status.
“I think it speaks to the nature of Secretary Zinke’s future political goals,” says Weiss. “He’s being very careful not to do anything that would harm his chances of running for Governor someday and that would have been a dead end.”
More than 20 national monuments are still under the review that is expected to end in the fall.
Weiss accuses the Trump Administration of treating the review like a reality TV show – keeping communities that financially rely on the monuments on edge only to be saved later on.
While Gardner and Tipton are credited for their actions to help preserve Canyons of the Ancients, Weiss says they were acting out of political convenience as well because their statements did not extend to the other national monuments that share the same heritage and cultural importance of Canyons.
“It says they’re being deferential to the first ever attack on our monuments.”