What really went down during President Trump’s visit to Utah on December 4th:
Monday, December 4th, 2017 will no doubt go down in history as a turning point in our conservation efforts as a country. Which way we will turn is still yet to be seen. If you are reading this you most likely know by now that President Trump visited Utah and called for a dramatic reduction in both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. I was itching to comment on this declaration but I wanted the dust as well as my temper to settle first.
Both of these monuments were set aside under, President Barack Obama who designated Bears Ears a monument in 2016, and President Bill Clinton who classified Grand Staircase-Escalante a monument in 1996, using a century-old (1906) law called the Antiquities Act that grants presidents the authority to set aside landmarks and “other objects of historic or scientific interest.” It is designed to protect these areas from the looting of their artifacts and preserve our history as a county.
During his announcement, President Trump said, “Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington, and guess what? They’re wrong.” A statement which makes President Trump sound like he is fighting for the best interest of the common man of Utah, and depending on who you ask, that is exactly what he did.
Some of Utah’s politicians, for instance, have been calling for a reduction in the size of these national monuments since they were brought into existence. They have even argued that the actions of the previous presidents were illegal under that 1906 Antiquities act as it states that presidents should limit designations to the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management.”
Many supporters of this reduction have said that the creation of these national monuments robbed locals of the private use of this land, disabling them from the ability to bring in revenue from said use. The location of Bears Ears in rural San Juan County, is one of Utah’s poorest, where more than 60 percent of its land is owned and managed by the federal government. The question is, what would be there if not for these monuments?
“President Trump’s decision to reduce these monuments allows us to still protect those areas that need protection, while at the same time keeping the area open and accessible to locals who depend on this land for their daily lives,” said Matt Anderson of the Utah-based Sutherland Institute. The Sutherland Institute is a conservative public policy think tank located in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Institute was founded in 1995 by Utah businessman and philanthropist Gaylord K. Swim. Wikipedia
Conservationists and Indigenous peoples of that area have a different view of President Trump’s actions that Monday. Bears Ears is widely considered one of the most culturally significant areas in the western united states. The area is littered with cliff dwellings, ancient artifacts and sacred burial grounds. They argue this decision is a huge detriment to the history of the American West. They also attest that under the Antiquities Act that President Trump does not have the legal right to shrink the monuments and there are several lawsuits expected in the coming months.
These lawsuits may very well change the course of conservation in the US. Should the Indigenous people, outdoor companies, and conservation groups win, the Antiquities Act could be used by future presidents to set aside, even more, land as protected national monuments. Should they lose however it opens up the abilities of President Trump and any presidents after him to shrink national monuments at will, potentially endangering even national parks.
There were mass protests the morning of the decision and as far as I can tell they haven’t stopped. Tribal leaders from the Navajo Nation as well as other local tribes have called this robbery and plan to take up a legal battle as well. It should be noted that Trump made these decisions without ever visiting either location as far as I can tell. He bases his decision off of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s study and recommendations o7 24 separate locations nationwide, and he made a call to change at least 10 locations. Trump’s decision will shrink Bears Ears National Monument from roughly 1.3 million acres to roughly 228,000, about 15 percent of its original size. Grand Staircase, on the other hand, will be cut by roughly half, from its 1.9 million acres to about 1 million.
“President Trump’s dramatic reduction of the Bears Ears National Monument is a direct attack on the Antiquities Act and America’s public lands. We intend to challenge this action in federal court,” Stephanie Meeks, president, and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“I think the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits,” Yvon Chouinard, founder, and CEO of outdoor gear company Patagonia, told CNN. “We’re losing this planet, and we have an evil government. And not just the federal government, but wacko politicians out of Utah and places. I mean, it’s evil. And I’m not going to stand back and just let evil win.”
It is my view that this was a rash act and a prime example of the U.S. breaking more promises to its indigenous people and eroding environmental protections. Opening up the land for private and traditional uses in Utah will mean mining and likely even housing development at some point. Utah is already home to many coal mines and 2 very large ones. The opening of this land will do doubt see the creation of others which is something that affects us all not just those in Utah.
I work in sustainability, so it is no secret that I feel this could be a huge loss for us all not just Utah and the impending legal battle could very well seal our fate in terms of conservation and CO2 producing industries being able to move in on previously protected land. I do believe that these two monuments may have needed an adjustment to allow locals to derive revenue off the land, in controlled circumstances, but I do not believe the shrinking of about 2 million acres is anywhere close to necessary. I have visited Southern Utah many times and I am always struck in awe by the beauty of the area, an area that should remain out of reach of those who would develop it. I stand with Bears Ears. I stand with Grand Staircase. I stand with Mother Earth. I hope you will too. -Martin Upton