Trump paves way for mining/drilling, effectively eliminates Bears Ears and deeply cuts Grand Staircase-Escalante

President Donald Trump

As part of a historically low domestic spending proposal, President Trump wants to cut funding for a host of environmental agencies and programs

Gage Skidmore, flickr

Trump has announced his decision to eliminate Bears Ears and portions of Grand Staircase-Escalante

President Trump has announced his decision to effectively eliminate Bears Ears and vast portions of Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, potentially exposing thousands of culturally and ecologically important sites to development.

Update 12/7/16: Following the footsteps of Native American tribes who have already sued the President, we are one of 9 conservation organizations represented by Earthjustice in a suit charging the President with violating the 1906 Antiques Act and the U.S. Constitution by eviscerating the monument.

Update 12/5/16: We have are leading the lawsuit challenging President Trump's unlawful proclamation to revoke monument status for Utah's Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. 

The president's action is not only unprecedented by illegal--most legal scholars and historians agree that the Antiquities Act does not give the president the authority to revoke previous designations, only change the borders of monuments. We will continue to fight this in the courts and let you know how you can be involved.

The reductions are widely assumed to be a way to open more of these priceless landscapes to mining and drilling. The Wilderness Society will be filing a legal challenge to this attack, and we won't be alone. 

Trump's cuts to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante

Trump's announcement came during his first trip to Utah as president, 222 days after he signed an executive order at the Department of the Interior that subjected 27 national monuments to executive review. 

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante have loomed largest in the crosshairs from the very beginning of the review process, and were arguably the impetus for the whole exercise. Utah politicians—notably Sen. Orrin Hatch, Gov. Gary Herbert, Rep. Rob Bishop and former Rep. Jason Chaffetz—lobbied heavily for reduced protections, and Trump heaped praise on them for doing so.  

Bears Ears National Monument will be slashed to about 15 percent of its current size. This will leave countless sacred Native American sites open to plunder and exploitation. 

From a sheer geographic standpoint, those cuts are a little like shrinking Yankee Stadium down to just the visitor's bullpen, third base and a couple sections of bleachers.  

Grand Staircase-Escalante will be split into three tiny tracts, now called the Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits and Escalante Canyons national monuments. All told, it is losing roughly half its acreage. 

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante may now be opened to new uranium and coal mining operations, respectively. Both are losing protections for important paleontological sites, recreation areas and wildlands. 

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante were well deserving of national monument protection, each boasting a wealth of archaeological sites and wildlife habitat in eons-carved landscapes of unique southwestern beauty. And in the twisted political climate of 2017, that made them prime candidates for wanton destruction, too. 

Monument lands are popular; Trump's review is not 

National monuments are public lands already managed by the federal government that have been conferred special status, usually under the Antiquities Act, to help preserve cultural or natural landmarks. 

The Trump administration has couched its scrutiny of such lands as a noble stand on behalf of "the people," but the facts are not on their side. Polling from before President Obama's Bears Ears proclamation found that 71 percent of registered Utah voters supported monument status. Comments submitted under Trump's review show that Utahns reject changes to that status by an even greater margin: just under 91 percent opposed the review.   

That's to say nothing of the loud protests that swept through Salt Lake City the weekend before Trump arrived in Utah, opposing his actions.

And while Utahns as a whole are not keen on Trump's actions, this announcement is an especially grave insult to the Native American tribal voices who petitioned President Obama to protect Bears Ears in the first place. Tribal interests already plan a legal challenge to Trump's decision. 

All told, 99.2 percent of the more than 2.8 million public comments submitted about Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and other monument lands oppose the executive order that placed them under scrutiny. Americans don't support these actions, and they never did.