As a way of scoring political points with the congressional Republicans he needs to enact whatever agenda he may eventually scare up, as well as undermining an achievement of the Obama years — two things that may actually be one thing — the president seemingly prejudiced the outcome of Zinke's process by dismissing Bears Ears as something that "should never have happened."
During his visit, Zinke made various conciliatory remarks about how people on both sides of the issue really want the same thing, to protect the natural beauty and cultural artifacts to be found in both areas. That it was just a disagreement over just how that goal should be accomplished.
The best way to do that, though, is clear. Leave the monument designations in place.
Hope that that might be what happens is not beyond reason. But it is undermined by seeing the people who were Zinke's hosts and tour guides for the bulk of his visit. Mostly, they were state and local officials who are already on record as opposing the monument designations.
They deserved their chance to pitch their case. And the secretary did spend some time — about 90 minutes total — with the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and with Friends of Cedar Mesa, defenders of the newest monument.
Sadly left off his list, though, were such groups as Utah Dine Bikeyah, the grassroots organization that put the idea for Bears Ears forward in the first place, and the Escalante-Boulder Chamber of Commerce, business owners near Grand Staircase who credit the monument for creating an atmosphere where their businesses can thrive.
Zinke's answer to those omissions — "That's the breaks" — was not reassuring. Especially in view of the fact that the secretary's minders for most of his visit included such anti-monument voices as U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart and Utah Rep. Mike Noel.
It is still possible that the monuments will survive this review process, and that a ruling favorable to monument supporters may be made easier to take by the undeniable fact that opponents were not ignored.
Possible. But, to look at what happened last week, not all that likely.