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Zinke Talks Climate, Science As Rancher Hopes For Solutions

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stopped by Dugout Ranch near Canyonlands National Park, where researchers are studying climate change.

The Nature Conservancy owns this working ranch in the heart of Utah’s redrock canyon country. It’s also home to the Canyonlands Research Center that tracks how global warming affects the land, water and desert life.

“I’m a geologist,” said Zinke, who spoke to reporters Tuesday after a short hike here in drenching rain.“I like science. The president likes science.”

“I look at science as important -- we should manage on the basis of science,” he said

“Up front, climate’s changing. That’s undisputable. But it’s changing in ways we don’t understand.”

He also said humankind has had an influence but noted there are big questions: “Going forward is: What can we do about it? What is the best science away from the agendas?”

Zinke said that means depending on good information – like the data provided by one of the agencies he oversees, the U.S Geological Survey. A USGS scientist joined the morning hike to show soil crusts that are crucial to the desert ecosystem. Rancher Heidi Redd showed the Interior Secretary around, too.

“I felt that he does appreciate the beauty and the grandeur of Nature,” she said.

Redd originally favored a congressional approach to solving the land issues here – Utah Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. But now she hopes Zinke focuses on protecting the Bears Ears National Monument. Otherwise, she said, the natural and cultural resources will be vulnerable to looting and damage while the legal battles play out over years.

“I always hope that the spirits that live in these places enter everyone’s heart and makes them make good decisions.”

Zinke rode San Juan County’s backcountry on horseback with commissioner Bruce Adams. He’s one of the local residents and Utah Republican politicians who say the Bears Ears National Monument should be rescinded.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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