Yesterday, President Donald Trump spoke in the Utah State Capitol, officially announcing the largest-ever reduction of a national monument in U.S. history.
President Trump will shrink the Bears Ears National Monument by 1.1 million acres, nearly 85 percent of its total size.
The president stated,
“I know all of you feel blessed to be living among some of the most glorious natural wonders anywhere in the world. Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. Guess what? They are wrong. 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 how best to conserve this land for many many generations to come.”
Trump also announced the shrinking of another Utah national monument, the Grand Staircase-Escalante, to half of its original size. He stated that previous presidents have abused the Antiquities Act, “Our precious natural treasures must be protected, and they, from now on, will be protected.”
Trump tried to claim that the monument designation prevents local people from hunting and stops cattle from grazing on the land. Of course, the president isn’t actually “protecting” this land, just opening the way for oil and gas development to walk right in.
Bears Ears, which hold numerous sites of historical, cultural, and ecological significance, is also rich in uranium and is home to the nation’s last operating uranium mill. When President Obama decided the monument’s boundaries, he left most of the uranium deposits outside, but banned all new mining operations within the monument.
Utah lawmakers wrote to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke earlier this year, claiming that the national monument was hindering the mill’s business and could “permanently” eliminate the state’s uranium mining industry. Zinke responded by releasing his recommendations on several national monuments, suggesting that the Trump administration should reduce or change the boundaries on six monuments, including Bears Ears.
Now, several groups are fighting back. The Navajo Nation has stated that they will challenge Trump in court. Most likely courts will have to hear arguments on whether the Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to reduce or designate national monuments.
Bears Ears is considered sacred land by the Indigenous tribes in the area. the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, along with the Navajo Nation and other conservation and environmental groups, argue that the president does not have the authority to make these changes.
A lot is at stake.
A win for conservation groups would permanently mark the monuments’ original boundaries, but a loss would affirm the executive branch’s right to designate and shrink monuments.
Another group, Friends of Cedar Mesa, are working hard to educate visitors and build fences to protect archaeological sites. The group has already started a kickstarter in order to raise funds to purchase an old bar in Bluff, Utah, to turn it into a visitor education center.
Access Fund, a group that represents mountain climbers who are huge advocates of Bears Ears, has been working with local tribes to fight against Trump. The group’s national policy director, Erik Murdock, says they are “committed to fighting to maintain Bears Ears National Monument.”
Action Utah, a nonpartisan civic engagement group, has spent hours helping members of the group lobby local officials, write letters, and create fact-based arguments for preserving the monuments.
The fight will not be easy, but with so much support and on-the-ground activism, hopefully it is a fight that conservationists can win.