We’re not surprised that the Interior Department wasn’t interested in hearing arguments against shrinking national monuments last year.
The Washington Post reported Monday that Interior Department officials dismissed evidence that monuments boosted tourism and spurred archaeological discoveries, instead emphasizing the value of logging, ranching and energy development that would be permitted if protections were removed.
President Donald Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review 27 national monuments, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. The president reduced the size of two monuments in Utah, but has taken no action on the Cascade-Siskiyou.
Documents released July 16 show Interior officials rejected material that supported keeping monuments intact in favor of evidence suggesting protections should be dismantled. The next day, officials removed the documents online and asked anyone who had downloaded the files to delete them.
Although some documents may have been exempt from disclosure, that doesn’t forbid an agency from releasing the information anyway, or bar publication of the documents once they were released.
It’s easy to see why the department wanted to take back the first release, because the redacted versions subsequently made public reveal what officials wanted to hide. In the case of the Cascade-Siskiyou, that included a statement from an acting deputy director that “previous timber sale planning and development can be immediately resumed” if the monument expansion were revoked.
Public records law allows exemptions for internal communications that are part of a deliberative process. But in this case, it appears the deliberation was slanted to justify a particular decision.