Published since 1946
President Trump, Secretary Zinke Make Monument Announcements
On December 4, President Donald J. Trump signed proclamations to modify boundaries and create five distinct monuments in the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. The decision reduces the footprint of the monuments by over 2 million acres, but maintains protections for 1.2 million acres of land in southern Utah. While the administration is touting the move as returning public lands for public use and supporting the will of the people of Utah, the move has prompted significant backlash with lawsuits filed against the decision within a day. The day after the announcement, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke publicly released the monuments report his department submitted to the president that recommends additional changes to other monuments as well as the proposal to create three new monuments under the Antiquities Act.
“No one values the splendor of Utah more than the people of Utah – and no one knows better how to use it. Families will hike and hunt on land they have known for generations, and they will preserve it for generations to come.” said President Donald J. Trump. “The Antiquities Act does not give the Federal Government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice. Public lands will once again be for public use.”
The changes to Bears Ears National Monument creates two separate monument units, the Shash Jáa unit of just under 130,000 acres and the Indian Creek unit of nearly 72,000 acres; originally Bears Ears included over 1.3 million acres. The federal lands removed from the monument will continue to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and according to the Department of the Interior (DOI), “The new proclamation allows for increased public access to the land and restores traditional use allowance for activities like cattle grazing and motorized recreation, and tribal collection of wood and herbs.” It also continues to protect key antiquities within the monument like the Bears Ears buttes and several areas of rock art and Native American ruins.
In Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Trump’s proclamation creates three distinct units, the Grand Staircase at just under 210,000 acres, the Kaiparowits unit at approximately 551,000 acres and the Escalante Canyons unit of nearly 243,000 acres for a total of just over 1 million acres. The administration states that in the 20 years since the monument was first created, additional review has been done on objects that were previously protected allowing them to re-determine the proper size for the monument. Many of the areas with high concentration of fossils and particular important landscape features remain in the units.
“I thank President Trump for his leadership on the Monument Review and for keeping his promise to make sure the rural voice is heard once again,” said Secretary Zinke. “As I visited the Monuments in Utah, I met with Americans on all sides of the issue – from ranchers to conservationists to tribal leaders – and found that we agree on wanting to protect our heritage while still allowing public access to public land. The people of Utah overwhelmingly voiced to us that public land should be protected not for the special interests, but for the citizens of our great country who use them, and this is what President Trump is doing today. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase will remain under federal protection, will adhere to the spirit and letter of the Antiquities Act, and – even after our modification – combined will still be nearly twice the size of Rhode Island.”
However, critics of the decision claim the monument boundary changes are directly related to efforts to mine for coal and uranium, or drill for oil and gas on the areas that have been removed from protection. Opponents claim that the boundary changes have a high correlation of areas with high potential for energy or mineral development that were removed from the monument boundaries.
“The Trump administration’s attempt to remove conservation protections for the vast majority of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments is the largest single attack in history on our nation’s conservation heritage,” commented Colin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “No president has broken this bipartisan conservation covenant of building upon the conservation achievements of his predecessor— until today. Today’s action … is intended to open more public lands to coal and uranium mining and oil and gas drilling at a time when roughly 14 million acres of land under oil and gas leases sit idle and coal leases are going for cents on the dollar.”
The day after the announcement on the Utah monuments, Secretary Zinke released the final report that documents the recommendations for national monument designations. In addition to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante decisions, boundary changes are expected for the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon. The report emphasizes that federal lands will remain in federal control – those areas removed from the monuments that are managed by federal agencies will continue to be in federal hands. However, those lands will be managed under a multiple use mandate rather than with certain restrictions that had been included as part of the monument designation. The report does recommend adding three additional national monuments, the Badger Two Medicine area in Montana, Camp Nelson in Kentucky, and the Medgar Evers Home in Mississippi.
In addition to the concerns about potential mineral development on former monument lands, many groups are angered by the precedent that has been set for a president to make changes to previous presidents’ use of the Antiquities Act. It has been 50 years since a president amended a monument boundary and that was when President John F. Kennedy made changes to Bandelier National Monument by reducing the area by 4,000 acres in one area while adding 2,900 acres in another area to emphasize those areas with the greatest archaeological value.
“If a president can redraw national monuments at will, the integrity of the Antiquities Act is compromised and many of America’s finest public lands face an immediate risk of exploitation,” says Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership President, Whit Fosburgh. “The power to create national monuments under the Antiquities Act lies with the President, and that authority is to be kept in check by Congress alone. We have repeatedly asked the administration to walk a path that upholds this precedent. Instead, the legacy of 16 former presidents, and the future status of some of America’s most iconic public lands, will be thrown into question.”
The president’s proclamation would allow areas that are no longer protected as part of the national monument to be opened for energy and mineral development within 60 days, however it is unlikely leasing will commence until courts rule on lawsuits that were filed against the administration shortly after the decision. Several environmental organizations as well as the Navajo Nation have filed suit against the president’s action.