Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke praises Utahns, Mormon pioneers at Days of ’47 rodeo

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke talks with the media at the Hunting and Conservation Expo at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, after signing Secretarial Order 3362, aimed at improving habitat quality and Western winter range and migration corridors for big game.

The culminating night of the annual Days of ’47 rodeo kicked off with a special visit from a member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose review of public lands and recommendations led to the reduction of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, offered brief remarks on the topic of religious freedom Tuesday evening as the rodeo’s Pioneer Day event got underway.

“Utah also understands that freedom of religion is a cornerstone of American exceptionalism,” Zinke said.

The bulk of Zinke’s remarks consisted of reading a statement by Trump, released earlier in the day Tuesday, recognizing Utah’s Pioneer Day celebration and the settlement of Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

“Today we have a man in the White House who respects religious freedom,” Zinke said. “That man is Donald J. Trump.”

Zinke’s visit came shortly after the Interior Department was caught up in additional controversy surrounding the reduction of national monuments. Documents released by the department, and later retracted, showed that Zinke’s survey of the nation’s protected lands dismissed the benefits of preservation — such as tourism and archaeological research — in deference to logging, ranching and other economic interests that are hindered by a monument designation.

Utah’s elected leaders lobbied Trump to reduce the size and scope of the state’s monuments. The reduction order was signed during a visit by the president to the state’s Capitol, which included a tour of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Welfare Square.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) U.S. President Donald Trump, surrounded by Utah representatives looks at Sen. Orrin Hatch to give him the pen used to signs a presidential proclamation to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments at the Utah Capitol on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017.

Zinke has also suggested relocating the headquarters of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, to the West, with Salt Lake City and Denver reportedly on the short list of potential sites. Most of the land managed by BLM is located in the western states.

Following his remarks Tuesday, Zinke rode on horseback while leading a precession of Utah and Days of ’47 dignitaries around the rodeo arena. He waved a white-gloved hand to the applauding crowd, receiving a particularly robust greeting from Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who was seated in the lower rows on the stadium’s west side.

“There he is!” Hughes cheered, pointing to Zinke. “That’s our guy. That’s our guy!”

Zinke was introduced at the event by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who described the secretary as a “great patriot” and friend of Utah. Herbert also praised Zinke for his support of “multiple use” on public lands, a shorthand expression for maintaining economic and recreation interests in preserved areas.

“Like [Theodore] Roosevelt,” Herbert said of Zinke, “he appreciates the beauty and the productivity of our public lands.”

As president, Theodore Roosevelt advocated for and signed legislation creating the National Park System.

Zinke and Herbert awarded the evening’s first gold and silver medals, respectively, to the winners of the bareback riding category.