The Obama administration's decision to lock away several million acres to protect them for environmental purposes was a "blatant misuse of power," Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said Tuesday, while explaining the decision to return large tracts to the people of Utah.
"You look at the expansion of it, Bear's Ears [National Monument] is 1.5 million acres," Zinke told Fox News' "Fox & Friends" program.
"We're giving a voice back to Utah, a voice back to the local communities that live and work there. It was a blatant misuse of power."
In one case, Zinke said, the governor of Utah did not know that the Obama administration had taken 2 million acres of land and locked the public out.
"Public land is for public use, and not special interests," said Zinke. "We're restoring national territories, wilderness to wilderness. Again, at the end of the day, public access is hunting and fishing, grazing, that's an important use."
On Monday, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation that scaled back two of Utah's national monuments, saying it would "reverse federal overreach."
However, environmental and tribal groups are planning to sue to preserve monuments, especially at Bears Ears, which features thousands of Native American artifacts such as petroglyphs and ancient cliff dwellings.
However, Zinke said he believes public use is important, and the nation's lands are "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."
"We do restore national forests, we restore wilderness, and we open up our public land to the public for greater access, making sure hunting and fishing rights, grazing," said Zinke.
"There are multigenerational families, ranching families that found their livelihood being threatened. Timber management is an issue, and we need to make sure we're actively managing our lands. You look at what's happened out west, fire after fire, devastation after devastation. We need to actively manage."
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