Trump announced on Monday that he would reduce the size of two Utah national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, by about two million acres as recommended by Interior Secretary Zinke. The Bears Ears national monument was downsized by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 50 percent [see map], which is the largest reversal of federal land protection in U.S. history. In his address in Utah, Trump cited federal overreach by previous administrations and a desire to give land back to the people as the motivating factors for the rollback. The lack of designation opens up this land to oil and gas production, mineral extraction, logging and other commercial endeavors. Supporters of the reversal say that it will give people access to land they need for their livelihoods and production of key resources, which was previously denied to them in a federal land grab. Opposition to the rollback is concerned about current and future land conservation in the U.S., as well as the sacred Native cultural sites located within the monuments. Eight lawsuits have already been filed against the reversal, citing the President’s lack of authority to recall the designations. A group of native tribes, outdoor retailers, and conservation groups are among the entities filing suit. In the meantime, Secretary Zinke has already suggested downsizing for two additional national monuments, California and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou and Nevada’s Gold Butte, as well as a change in management for ten others.
This decision fits seamlessly into Trump’s continued call for decreased regulation and increased development of public land. The search for “energy dominance” and the desire to tap into the fossil fuels that are assumed to lie beneath many public lands are assumed to be the driving force behind the push to open up these public lands to private companies. In his address in Utah, Trump claimed that “very distant bureaucrats” in Washington did not know this land’s best purpose, and he gave it back to those that do. However, the availability of previously protected land for development and commercial production has set off alarm bells for those in conservation. Especially in light of Zinke’s recommendation for downsizing additional monuments, many are concerned that this is only the beginning of undoing regulations for much of America’s protected land. Both sides say that the actions of the other are unconstitutional and an overextension of power. Those in favor of reducing national monuments say that the land was designated by federal overreach, while those opposed to the reversal say that the President only has power to set aside land, not reverse such orders. In what has been called a “flurry of lawsuits,” many entities, including conservation groups, outdoor retailers, and Native tribes, have come together to oppose this order and the implications it could have on all protected land.
- Sign the NRDC petition to protect national monuments
- Join the Nature Conservancy’s Defense of National Monuments
This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.