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Zinke Caves On Plans To Sell Off 1,600 Acres Of Federal Land In Utah

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by Tim Pearce

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is scrapping a proposal to sell 1,600 acres of federal land in Utah after finding out about the plans from media reports.

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President Donald Trump announced plans in December to roll-back the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in Utah. The new boundaries were made official Feb. 2 and the Department of the Interior has been crafting plans for managing the land inside and out of the redrawn designation.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released draft management plans for two smaller national monuments created within the old borders of GSENM Wednesday. Within one of the draft plans posted for public comment, 2.5 square miles of federal land would be offered for sale to private interests.

“The secretary did not see the proposal before it went out and was not happy about it,” a senior Interior Department official told The Salt Lake Tribune. Zinke heard about the potential sale from media reports.

Zinke has since scrapped the proposed sale and will keep the roughly 900,000 acres cut out of the original GSENM under federal control, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Zinke told lawmakers that he is “absolutely against” selling off or transferring land out of federal control.

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Environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers blasted the proposal to sell off federal land.

“This sell-off is an outrageous betrayal of the public trust and must not be allowed,” Democrat Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington told The Washington Post in a statement Friday before Zinke scrapped the proposal.

The rest of the draft management plan proposes several strategies for managing the federal land no longer under national monument status. The BLM’s preferred alternative would open about 66,000 acres of land to coal mining.

Oil and natural gas development would be allowed on a large share of the land, but constraints would limit operations and protect other, non-mineral resources.

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