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AP FACT CHECK: Trump's curious case for shrinking monuments

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump made a curious case for stripping federal protections from vast stretches of two of America's national monument lands. 

For one, he said his decision will give Native Americans back their "rightful voice over the sacred land." But they already have specified rights on the land, thanks to the national monument designation under the Antiquities Act, and fear losing those rights under his decision. That's why they're fighting his action in court. 

Trump also said that because of his decision, "families will hike and hunt on land they have known for generations, and they will preserve it for generations to come. Cattle will graze along the open range. Sweeping landscapes will inspire young Americans to dream beyond the horizon."

But hiking, hunting and cattle-grazing are already allowed on the lands that make up the two national monuments he is targeting in Utah: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. If the loss of protection spurs energy development, people may see mines on a sweeping landscape where they are now forbidden. 

A look at his statement in Salt Lake City on Monday about his plan to reduce Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly half:

TRUMP: "As many of you know, past administrations have severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act. This law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments."

THE FACTS: That's not exactly what Teddy Roosevelt's 1906 preservation law says. It states, in essence, that the federal government should not bite off more than it can chew when a president designates an area for protection. It doesn't demand that such land be kept to a minimum. Such protected land "shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected," it says.

TRUMP: "We have seen how this tragic federal overreach prevents many Native Americans from having their rightful voice over the sacred land where they practice their most important ancestral and religious traditions."

"Here, and in other affected sites, we have seen harmful and unnecessary restrictions on hunting, ranching and responsible economic development. We have seen grazing restrictions prevent ranching families from passing their businesses and beloved heritage on to the children, the children that they love. We've seen many rural families stopped from enjoying their outdoor activities, and the fact that they've done it all their lives made no difference to the bureaucrats in Washington."

THE FACTS: Native rights are generally enshrined on national monument lands, not terminated. So are other public uses of the land. What's most at stake is new mining, logging or commercial development.

Of the two Utah monuments, Grand Staircase is the primary prospect for potential mining because of past interest in a large coal reserve on the lands. Worries about Bears Ears are mainly about disturbing Native American artifacts and general disrespect for land considered sacred by multiple tribes.

Trump's point about "responsible economic development" goes to the heart of the actual debate over whether Washington is imposing unreasonable restrictions in monument lands. And ranchers bristle under what they consider heavy-handed rules for grazing on these lands.

But the notion that rural families can't enjoy the beauty of a national monument is unsupported.

When President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears a year ago, for example, current uses of the land were maintained, tribal access among them. It was "closed to new extractive uses such as mining and oil and gas development." Among the activities or installations allowed: "traditional collection of plants and firewood, off-highway vehicle recreation, hunting and fishing, legal grazing, military training operations, and utility corridors."

Five tribes lobbied Obama to declare Bears Ears a national monument to preserve lands that are home to ancient cliff dwellings and an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites. Native Americans visit the area to perform ceremonies, collect herbs and wood for medicinal and spiritual purposes, and do healing rituals. The tribes filed a suit Monday night challenging Trump's action.

A coalition of environment groups filed the first of several expected lawsuits challenging Trump's move on Grand Staircase-Escalante, established by Bill Clinton when he was president.

The groups say Trump's decision endangers a "Dinosaur Shangri-la" full of fossils. Some dinosaur fossils sit on a plateau that is home to one of the country's largest known coal reserves, which could now be open to mining.

Arizona, tax money to be used for House ethics investigation

PHOENIX -- Arizona taxpayers could be on the hook for up to $18,000 to pay the legal fees of lawmakers accused of ethics violations.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard has authorized up to 20 hours of legal work on behalf of Reps. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, and Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix. All three were named in complaints and became the subjects of an internal probe to see if there is truth to allegations against them. That inquiry is the first step in determining if any House rules were violated and whether lawmakers should face a disciplinary hearing.

Each attorney is being allowed to charge up to $300 an hour.

But Mesnard told Capitol Media Services that if the investigation leads to formal disciplinary charges, the lawmakers will be on their own financially.

That's not going to happen in at least one of the cases.

Late Wednesday, the chairman of the House Ethics Committee dismissed the complaint against Rios that has been filed by fellow Democrat Ray Martinez of Phoenix.

In a letter to Martinez, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said that complaints of violations of House ethics rules need to be based on "facts within the personal knowledge of the individual making the complaint.'' But Farnsworth told Martinez his complaint that Rios had "inappropriate relationships,'' including one with someone who had been a House staffer at the time, "appears largely based upon information you have overhead from others.''

And there's something else. Farnsworth said even if Martinez did have such first-hand knowledge -- Rios has refused to comment -- nothing he accused her of doing violates any law, rule or House policy.

That conclusion could also be good news for Ugenti-Rita.

One of the two allegations made against her by Shooter is that she entered into a personal relationship with a House staffer. But based on what Farnsworth concluded about Rios, that may not be grounds to pursue that issue.

It was not immediately known how much Rios' lawyer had run up in legal fees.

Mesnard defended letting all three legislators use state dollars to get legal help.

He said if any lawmaker were under investigation it would be the obligation of the House of Representatives, as their employer, to provide legal assistance. But with all the House lawyers now tied up doing the probe, Mesnard said that left outside counsel as the only option.

Not everyone is in agreement.

"I believe it is wholly inappropriate for the taxpayers to have to provide for a defense that has nothing to do with the business of the people,'' said Majority Whip Kelly Townsend. "I oppose this idea and hope that the decision is reversed immediately.''

That's not going to happen.However, Mesnard said it's only fair and appropriate to give lawmakers facing charges -- some from other legislators -- some legal help during this stage of the investigation.

The most serious of the allegations are against Shooter, with allegations by three female lawmakers, multiple lobbyists, and even a newspaper publisher; each accused him of inappropriate comments and harassment. That includes a claim by Ugenti-Rita that Shooter made comments about her breasts and sought a sexual relationship.

Shooter responded by filing his own complaint against her, saying not only did she enter into a romantic relationship with a House staffer, she also made a comment during a committee hearing about masturbation to a male legislator.

Mesnard responded to all the complaints by putting together a committee of House staffers, including attorneys from both political parties, to take a closer look. That panel, in turn, hired a private lawyer, Craig Morgan, to do some of the actual digging.

That potential $18,000 cost for legal fees for the three legislators could prove to be the least expensive part of the probe.

Morgan's contract says he will be paid what he called a discounted rate of $325 an hour, with other members of the firm who get involved in the probe billing at $400 an hour. The contract does not specify a maximum amount.

The speaker said he hopes to have the entire inquiry wrapped up -- including any hearings of the Ethics Committee if it comes to that -- before the Legislature returns for its regular session on Jan. 8. But he conceded that may not be possible.

At this point -- and with the facts now available -- Mesnard said it's only fair to provide legal help to the three legislators.

"Right now you have member-to-member accusations flying fast and furious,'' he said.

But at this point, that's all they are. So Mesnard believes they're entitled to at least some legal advice on the investigative process at this stage.

"The alternative would be me saying, 'Sorry, I'm investigating you, now you've got to go come up with money out of your pocket because of an accusation,' '' he said.

"Any organization, if it has folks within the organization accusing others of misconduct, I think they're going to follow a very similar process,'' Mesnard said. "They're going to do their own investigation. It's going to involve the attorneys of the business.''

“Only if and when that inquiry by that business finds reason to believe someone acted improperly would the obligation to provide legal help to the employee be cut off,'' he contends.

"I just consider their counsel an extension of the investigation,'' Mesnard said of the taxpayer-provided legal help for the three lawmakers. "It's to make sure an investigation happens properly.''

And there's something else behind his decision.

"I'm trying to make sure that, on the other side, I'm not liable if they come back and say, 'You investigated me, you need to pay for my attorneys, you didn't pay, and now you're on the hook for the whole thing,' '' Mesnard said.

The speaker conceded that the inquiry into Shooter, who faces allegations beyond those filed by fellow legislators, "complicates things a bit.'' But Mesnard said he still believes the best course of action is to provide the 20 hours of legal help to him, too.

Mesnard's fear of the House being liable for more serious legal bills if it doesn't front some legal costs raises a different issue: what happens if lawmakers are forced to reimburse taxpayers if an investigation leads to charges and the Ethics Committee ultimately finds them guilty of violating House rules? "That's an interesting question,'' Mesnard responded. But the speaker said he believes that the use of tax dollars is appropriate as the legal fees are limited solely to the investigative part of the inquiry. All that changes if the findings result in an Ethics Committee hearing.

"That's why it makes sense at that point if there's any subsequent issues that the legal fees are on them, on the legislators,'' he said. "But at this point we are fact finding.''

None of the lawmakers have issued specific responses to the allegations against them.

This week, we're challenging readers to identify locations in Flagstaff with only a close-up photo as a clue. For today's solution, look for another photo in the Classified section or visit the slide show at

Interior head says Patagonia claim about public land 'a lie'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday accused outdoor retailer Patagonia of lying when it said that President Donald Trump "stole your land" by shrinking two national monuments in Utah by some 2 million acres.

An angry Zinke called the claim — made in large type on the company's home page — "nefarious, false and a lie."

Zinke told reporters the land targeted by Trump remains protected because it is still under federal control.

"I understand fundraising for these special interest groups," Zinke said. "I think it's shameful and appalling that they would blatantly lie in order to gain money in their coffers."

Patagonia replaced its usual home page Monday night with a stark message declaring, "The President Stole Your Land." The message called Trump's actions to shrink Utah's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments "illegal" and the largest elimination of protected land in American history.

Outdoor retailer REI also criticized Trump but in less harsh language.

Zinke took a defiant tone in a conference call with reporters, saying, "I don't yield to pressure, only higher principle. And sound public policy is not based on threats of lawsuits, it's doing what's right."

Patagonia has "always viewed public lands as our special interest," said company spokeswoman Corley Kenna. "And it's odd that Ryan Zinke has no problem with special interests when they're paying for his private jets. We have been fighting for these lands for decades, so that hunters, fishers, hikers and everyone else can use them and help us protect them."

Patagonia is expected to file a lawsuit challenging the Bears Ears decision as soon as Wednesday. The company has joined with REI and other outdoor recreation companies in leading a push to move the industry's lucrative trade show from Salt Lake City to Denver after two decades in Utah. The move was a high-profile protest over Utah leaders' insistence on getting the Bears Ears designation rescinded and trying to take more control of federal lands.

Zinke argued that Bears Ears is still larger than Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks combined even after being downsized to about 202,000 acres (315 square miles) while Grand Staircase-Escalante retains about 1 million acres (about 1,500 square miles.)

Environmental and conservation groups and a coalition of tribes filed lawsuits Monday that ensure Trump's announcement is far from the final word in the yearslong battle over public lands in Utah and other Western states. The court cases are likely to drag on for years.

A coalition of the Hopi, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni tribes and Navajo Nation sued late Monday to challenge the Bears Ears reduction, which cuts monument status for the rugged land in southeastern Utah by about 85 percent. Bears Ears features thousands of Native American artifacts, including ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.

The tribes argue that federal law only gives presidents the ability to create a national monument, not the ability to downsize one.

Two lawsuits also have been filed to try to block the Grand Staircase decision, which cuts the monument nearly in half. Grand Staircase contains scenic cliffs, canyons, waterfalls and arches — and one of the nation's largest known coal reserves.

The two monuments were created by Democrats Barack Obama and Bill Clinton under a century-old law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historically, geographically or culturally important.

Trump acted on a recommendation by Zinke, who also has urged that two other large national monuments in the West be reduced in size, potentially opening up thousands of acres of land revered for natural beauty and historical significance to mining, logging and other development.

The interior secretary's plan would scale back Nevada's Gold Butte and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou, in addition to the two Utah sites.

Zinke said Tuesday he would focus changes in Gold Butte on the site's water districts. Gold Butte protects nearly 300,000 acres of desert landscapes featuring rock art, sandstone towers and wildlife habitat for the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise and other species.

Zinke declined to specify how many acres he wants to remove from monument status, stressing that the administration is working with Nevada's governor and congressional delegation to find a solution.

Similarly, Zinke declined specifics on Cascade-Siskiyou, which protects about 113,000 acres in an area where three mountain ranges converge. Changes will center on recent expansion of the site, which was first created by Clinton in 2000. Much of the additional land is on private property, while some is on land previously designated for timber production, Zinke said.

Zinke also has recommended allowing logging at a newly designated monument in Maine and urges more grazing, hunting and fishing at two sites in New Mexico. He also calls for a new assessment of border-safety risks at a monument in southern New Mexico.

FDA approves new Valley Fever test developed by Flagstaff researchers

A test developed by Flagstaff researchers to detect Valley Fever has been given approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The test is faster and more accurate than current means of detecting the fungus that causes Valley Fever, which rely on either culturing the fungus or testing a patient's blood for an antibody response. 

Instead, the genetic-based test developed by Flagstaff's Translational Genomics Research Institute picks out the DNA fingerprints of the microscopic fungus Coccidioides, which causes the Valley Fever infection.

In clinical trials, the test was close to 100 percent in terms of sensitivity and specificity, said Dave Engelthaler, director of TGen North in Flagstaff. Another advantage is that it can be completed in a hospital lab in under two hours, Engelthaler said. 

The research institute has developed similar diagnostic tests for pathogens like influenza, MRSA, or antibiotic resistant staph, and general fungal infections, but this was the first one to get FDA clearance, he said.

TGen patented and licensed the testing technology to St. George, Utah-based DxNA LLC, which developed an instrument to perform the test and is putting it on the market. 

"Valley Fever is obviously a critical infection in the desert Southwest and therefore this became a really important thing for us to focus on at TGen," Engelthaler said.