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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Jo Englert protests the shrinking of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments outside the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, where Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was expected to make a "major conservation announcement."

SALT LAKE CITY — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited Utah for the third time in less than a year on Friday, issuing a secretarial order to improve conservation and coordination of big game migration and winter range corridors in 11 Western states.

In a crowded exhibition hall at the Salt Palace Convention Center, Zinke detailed the importance of preserving habitat and boosting coordination among states so "our kids and our kids' kids" can enjoy the legacy of the outdoors and big game forged by sportsmen before them.

"It's my honor to be here today," he told the crowd gathered at the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo, noting he had signed a $1.2 billion distribution of revenue to states garnered from the sale of sportsmen-related equipment like angling equipment and ammunition.

"Sportsmen are the best conservationists," he said.

Secretarial Order No. 3362 is designed to improve habitat quality and Western big game winter range and migration corridors​ for antelope, elk, and mule deer​. ​The order, according to a release from the Interior Department, is designed to improve collaboration with states and ​private landowners and facilitates using the best available science. It specifically targets Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming​.

Afterward, Mike Fowlks, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said Zinke's new order represents a "10" in importance to the agency's continuing work to boost habitat for big game like deer, antelope and elk.

The order will build on a migration corridor initiative the division started last year with an investment of $2 million and more staff to establish buffers that protect wildlife with proactive planning.

Zinke said he'd toured a neighborhood dotted with houses that continues to attract deer — and while coexistence is possible — he said pipelines, housing and other new development needs to be coordinated with those corridors in mind.

The order, he emphasized, will boost collaboration among private land owners, federal agencies and states.

The directive received praise from multiple groups, including the National Wildlife Federation.

"We look forward to working with the Department of the Interior to help bring together private land owners, public land managers, sportsmen's and other conservation groups to implement win-win solutions for wildlife, from elk, mule deer, and pronghorn to bighorn sheep and bears," said Collin O'Mara, the federation's president and CEO.

Earlier in the day, Zinke met with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leadership detailing plans for a massive reorganization of his agency to better serve states in the West.

"The Department of the Interior’s plan to realign the regions in their department reflects good old-fashioned common sense. Practical solutions like this can help restore trust between the states and the federal government," Herbert said.

"I look forward to additional discussion regarding this proposal with my fellow governors in Washington, D.C., at the National Governors Association meetings later this month."

His appearance in Salt Lake City drew protesters as members of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other environmental activists gathered outside the convention center Friday.

The Trump administration is being sued by multiple groups in the aftermath of proclamations issued in December that downsized Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

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The reductions came after Zinke toured the region in May as part of an executive order directing a review of monuments that critics alleged fell outside of the 1906 Antiquities Act because of their size or lack of public input.

At a press conference, Zinke said Friday there was "no chance" the boundary reductions at Bears Ears would be revisited by his office, despite the repeated protests.

"Not one square inch was removed from federal protection, it is how it is managed," he said. "Public land belongs to people and not special interests."