More than two decades ago, President Clinton tried to end a long-running political battle over the future of 1.9 million acres of federal land in southern Utah by creating the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Last year,
But on Monday,
Trump didn't bother to travel all the way to the red rock canyons of Utah to make his announcement, proudly declaring in the state Capitol building in Salt Lake City that he would cut by half the protected area currently within the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument, and remove more than 1 million acres from Bears Ears, leaving only 230,000 acres in two separate new monuments, Shash Jaa (Navajo for Bears Ears) and Indian Creek. Trump said he wanted to undo previous administrations' "overreach" in establishing monuments much larger than necessary to protect specific sites. Yet he offered no evidence to support his claims of overreach.
In fact, this is nothing more than a giveaway to mining and other extractive industries, and a favor to conservative anti-public lands Republicans in Utah, lead by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch and Rep.
The Utah monuments were created under the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act, a law intended to give a president the flexibility to act quickly to preserve federal lands that hold "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest." Both Republican and Democratic presidents have used the law to preserve land that, in many cases, Congress later decided to designate national parks, which carry even stronger protections. In fact, more than half of the nation's 59 national parks began as, or include within them, national monuments, including the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion — three gems of the Southwest. In undoing the Grand Staircase designation, Trump imperils a regional outdoor recreation economy that has led to an increase in both jobs and per-capita income, for the chimera of riches from mines that ultimately might never get dug (the territory is vast and remote, making exploitation expensive).
And Trump isn’t done yet. The undoing of the Utah designations is part of a 27-monument review conducted by the Department of the Interior at Trump’s direction; more trims are likely at some of those other sites. Secretary
Fortunately, Trump's assault on federal lands has energized environmental activists, and several organizations have already promised to sue. Among the issues is whether Trump can legally shrink the monuments by declaration. The Antiquities Act gives the president the power to create monuments and it gives Congress the power to make changes, but it is silent on whether a president can undo a previous president's declaration. Several presidents have made mostly minor changes to previous declarations, but none of those have been challenged in court, so this is uncharted ground. Environmental groups also argue that changing a monument's "management plan" requires the government to show that the existing plans are somehow faulty.
If Trump could articulate a sensible reason for his heavy-handed actions, the nation would owe him a listen. But he hasn't, and such a transparent effort to reward political allies and mining interests should be fought vigorously.