Today, President Donald Trump announced plans to shrink Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by approximately 85 percent and reduce the states’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to about half of its current size.
At a speech at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, the president said, “Some people think that the natural resources should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what, they’re wrong. Together, we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth.”
According to The Washington Post, “The move will represent the most significant reductions by any president to designations made under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president unilateral authority to protect imperiled sites on federal lands and in federal waters.”
In April, Trump signed an executive order instructing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the Antiquities Act, with a focus on all national monument designations awarded after 1996 with areas that are at least 100,000 acres.
Zinke toured eight monuments and on August 24, he submitted a report that recommended border reduction for at least four. One was the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument that former President Barack Obama designated a national monument in December 2016. It contains cliff dwellings of the ancient Native Pueblo people and pictograph- and petroglyph-covered walls.
According to documents obtained by The Washington Post on Thursday (November 31):
Grand Staircase-Escalante would be split into three areas known as Grand Staircase National Monument, Kaiparowits National Monument and Escalante Canyons National Monument. Bears Ears will be divided into Indian Creek National Monument and the Shash Jaa National Monument, the latter of which will include two well-known ruins, Moon House and Doll House.
In response to the reductions, Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist at Friends of the Earth, issued the following statement:
Donald Trump is overseeing the largest elimination of protected areas in U.S. history. Dismantling these monuments is Trump’s latest gift to the corporate interests who backed his campaign. This action is unprecedented and will end up in court.
Another environmentalist, Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in response to the announcement,“What’s next, President Trump, the Grand Canyon?”
The administration asserts that the move will allow for activities that are now off-limits in the protected areas, such as logging in forests and commercial fishing in marine areas.
On Saturday (December 2), thousands of protestors gathered at the capitol building in Salt Lake City. “Keep your tiny hands off our public lands,” read one sign, intended as a message to the President.
A coalition of conservation groups and tribes are prepared to fight the changes in court. Per The Times:
Environmentalists and some native tribes say Mr. Trump’s move will destroy the national heritage and threaten some 100,000 sites of archaeological importance tucked into the monuments’ desert landscapes. Conservative lawmakers and many Westerners argue that the move is the proper response to decades of federal overreach.
“We will stand and fight all the way,” Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, told The Times, adding that the United States government has already taken “millions of acres of my people’s land.”