When President Donald Trump announced Monday he would be reducing the sizes of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, he delivered the following message:
“The families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best, and you know the best how to take care of your land. You know how to protect it, and you know best how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come.”
Except, there’s just one problem.
He isn’t returning it to the public.
He’s handing it over to fossil fuel interests so they can plunder it for profit.
Trump’s decision marks the widest elimination of public land protection in American history.
Bears Ears will be slashed from nearly 1.5 million acres to 228,784; Staircase, from around two million acres to 1,006,341.
Trump attacked former President Barack Obama’s protections for these monuments and others under the 1906 Antiquities Act as a threat to people’s way of life since it imposes restrictions on hunting and ranching.
About it, Trump said:
“This law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments. Unfortunately, previous administrations have ignored the standard and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control. With the action I’m taking today, we will not only give back your voice over the use of this land, we will also restore your access and your enjoyment. Public lands will once again be for public use because we know that people who are free to use their land and enjoy their land are the people most determined to conserve their land.”
Interior Secretary Zinke closed the moratorium on federal coal leases and pledged to open up public lands to intensified oil and gas extraction. As a result, Trump ordered Zinke to review twenty-seven national monument designations to determine whether some might be reversed or shrunk.
Zinke came back with recommendations for shrinking six and altering the management plans of four others.
If Trump follows through with Zinke’s suggestion, protected areas in Nevada, Oregon, and California would be resized, as would two marine monuments in the Pacific ocean.
The areas could be remodeled to permit timber production, grazing, or commercial fishing.
Zinke insists there is no oil or gas in Bears Ears.
There are, however, dozens of abandoned mines that have been out of commission for two decades. There is also oil and gas production near the monument’s northern and eastern borders.
Some energy firms claim there is potential for more, and since 2013 have requested the federal Bureau of Land Management lease more than 100,000 acres for oil and gas drilling near or within Bears Ears’ boundaries.
Up until now, though, they have been unsuccessful.
Thousands demonstrated on the Utah state capitol steps Saturday in protest.
Lori Weigel, Republican pollster from Denver, told the Associated Press:
“There’s nothing in our data that’d say, politically, that this is popular. I can’t say why Utah elected officials have taken this on more than in other states. But we see widespread recognition that designation of protected land is valued.”
Bears Ears monument is home to approximately 100,000 archaeological sites, Native American ceremonial grounds, graves, and rock art.
Shaun Chapoose of the Ute Indian Tribe business committee told the Guardian:
“[Trump’s policy is] another slap in the face in the overall relationship between the federal government and the tribes, and local people.”
A former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jamie Rappaport Clark, who now heads Defenders of Wildlife, said:
“This is a shameful and illegal attack on our nation’s protected lands. Teddy Roosevelt is rolling in his grave. We’ll be seeing President Trump in court.”
Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist at Friends of the Earth, said:
“Donald Trump is overseeing the largest elimination of protected areas in US 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. Public lands are to be managed for the public, not plundered by private interests that want to make billions off public resources. The majority of Americans want to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
Image credit: www.sltrib.com