Protesters follow Bernhardt to Vail

Protesters of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and the Trump administration's environmental policies cheer as a kayaker wearing a "swamp creature" mask paddles down Gore Creek outside the hotel where Bernhardt spoke Monday at the Western Governors' Association meeting in Vail. Bernhardt protesters wore the masks to contend that President Donald Trump, contrary to his campaign pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington, hired a Washington swamp creature in Bernhardt because of his former work as an attorney for oil and gas and other industries.

VAIL — As Interior Secretary David Bernhardt prepared to speak with western governors in Vail on Monday, others gathered to have their say about Bernhardt and the Trump administration, and the words weren't complimentary.

"David Bernhardt!" a protester bellowed from a megaphone on a path along Gore Creek outside the hotel where Bernhardt was appearing at the Western Governors' Association meeting.

"David Bernhardt!" dozens of protesters responded.

"Keep your hands!"

"Keep your hands!"

"Off of my!"

"Off of my!"

"Public lands!"

"Public lands!"

The protesters wore green T-shirts with Bernhardt's picture and the words, "David Bernhardt, the ultimate swamp monster." Some wore swamp creature masks that have become popular as Bernhardt protest devices, with some kayaking the creek clad in the shirts and masks.

Critics of Bernhardt, who grew up in the Rifle area, contend that President Trump, contrary to his campaign pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington, hired an ethically conflicted Washington swamp creature in Bernhardt due to his former work as an attorney for oil and gas and other industries.

"We don't have much political control. … We have to have a voice at least," North Carolina resident Jordan Bailey said as he protested against what he considers misguided Interior public-land policies when it comes to things such as oil and gas and mining.

Noting how the Interior Department has made it harder to submit public comments in advance of its actions, he added, "we're getting to comment right now."

Chelsea Stencel of Denver joined in the march, swamp creature mask and all. She said she's been depressed and upset about people considering it more important to make money than protect the earth, but decided to channel her emotions to make a difference.

"I'm just doing what I can to get involved," she said.

Emily Struzenberg of Environment Colorado grabbed a megaphone to lament that the Trump administration has proposed cutting the Land and Water Conservation Fund budget even as Bernhardt touts his support for the program.

"We need him to stop just talking the talk. We need to see him start walking the walk," she said.

Aaron Johnson with the Western Energy Alliance industry group finds such statements contradictory on the part of environmentalists, nothing that the fund is derived from off-shore oil and gas leasing.

"They recognize the benefits of revenues from oil and gas," even while at other times using oil and gas development as a wedge issue for opposing the Trump administration, he said.

Bernhardt, in a brief interview with The Daily Sentinel, indicated he hadn't been aware of the protesters' presence Monday.

But he said, "I take my ethical responsibilities very seriously. I've spent a long time working on these issues. I care about these issues.

"I care about communities like Rifle and Grand Junction, and the concept that public service is anything other than the utilization of the public good is …"

Bernhardt's voice then trailed off before he added, "People don't do these jobs unless they're committed to making the public better."

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