New Mexico Senator Calls Out Factual Errors in Final ‘Monuments’ Report

By Aaron Weiss

At yesterday’s hearing by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) identified multiple factual errors in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s final report to President Trump on national monuments.

During an exchange with John Ruhs, Acting Deputy Director of Operations at the Bureau of Land Management, Sen. Heinrich noted that Zinke’s report falsely claims:

  • Roads were closed since the designation of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
  • Ranchers have stopped ranching since the designation of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument because of road closures
  • Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument abuts the U.S.–Mexico border
  • Both monument proclamations need to be amended to protect hunting and fishing rights

Mr. Ruhs then confirmed that BLM staff were not asked to fact check the error-filled report before Secretary Zinke sent it to President Trump.

The entire five-minute exchange is worth watching, as it raises questions about the accuracy of Secretary Zinke’s entire report and the facts being used to support the secretary’s unprecedented recommendations to President Trump.

 

The full transcript of the exchange:

Senator Heinrich: With yesterday’s news about the secretary’s recommendations to the president regarding national monuments, including two BLM monuments in New Mexico, I have to take the opportunity to raise a couple of questions with you. I was incredibly concerned in reading the report’s summary on the two monuments in New Mexico to note that there were more than a few simple factual errors included.

For example, there’s a claim that roads have been closed in Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. I confirmed with BLM staff that that’s not accurate. And that ranchers have stopped ranching there because of those non-existing road closures. Also not true.

The report says that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is on or abuts the U.S.–Mexico border. That’s also not true because, on the recommendation of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the boundary of the monument was actually established five miles north of the international border. Actually north of New Mexico 9.

Finally, it says that both proclamations need to be amended to protect hunting and fishing rights, when nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve had the opportunity, in fact, to hunt everything from Mearns Quail to Javelina in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. In addition, Petersen’s Hunting Magazine just last month listed that monument as one of the top ten public land destination hunts in the nation for quail. As for the Rio Grande del Norte, I confirmed this morning with the largest membership sportsmens organization in New Mexico that hunting and fishing access have actually improved post-monument designation. And that the monument even hosts a bighorn sheep hunt that did not exist before the monument designation.

These are some pretty basic facts to get wrong. So I have to ask you: Were the local BLM staff, who actually manage these two monuments on the ground on a daily basis, consulted by the secretary’s office regarding the facts on the ground in these monuments that they manage as part of that secretarial process?

Mr. Ruhs: Senator, I can assure that I myself and the Bureau of Land Management were not part of the writing of the reports. We did answer questions and provide data as necessary. I haven’t seen the report, so I can’t answer the questions up front, but I would be willing to take those questions and concerns back with me to the department and ask.

Senator Heinrich: I would appreciate that. So you were actually not asked to fact check that document before it was shared with the White House?

Mr. Ruhs: Correct, Senator. We provided information as requested. And again, that’s the limit of our involvement.

Senator Heinrich: So the secretary’s office might ask you a specific question, but you were not given an opportunity to review that document for accuracy?

Mr. Ruhs: Correct.

Senator Heinrich: So there’s no way for you to know the sources of inaccurate facts in that report?

Mr. Ruhs: Correct, sir.

Mr. Heinrich: Do you have any idea if there’s going to be a process to correct factual errors in that report and potentially change recommendations based on inaccurate information?

Mr. Ruhs: Again, Senator, I am not involved with the development of the report. But my understanding, I guess, would be that our secretary is pretty thorough on things and so I’m sure that if we’ve identified that there are inconsistencies and I take that information back, I’m sure there’d be an opportunity to fix those.

Senator Heinrich: I look forward to putting together a fact sheet that is more consistent with the conditions on the ground. I’ll be happy to share that with you, so that you can take it back to the secretary. I have to say that my constituents are incredibly upset by the fact that the future of their monuments could be determined by people sitting in offices in Washington, DC who have not been out on the ground in those places. And at this point, seemingly, did not get their basic facts right.

So I look forward to working with you, I look forward to working with the secretary. And I certainly hope that before the president acts on any of these recommendations that the secretary makes sure that he can get his facts straight.

Aaron Weiss is Media Director for the Center for Western Priorities.

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