Trump Finalizes Plans For Drilling, Mining and Grazing in Former Utah Monuments

Valley of the Gods, one of the areas excised from Bears Ears National Monument.  Photo: Tim Peterson, LightHawk

Yesterday the Trump Administration published their “blueprints” to sell off development rights for additional oil and gas drilling, mining, grazing and road building on land that had been permanently protected as “national monuments” under Presidents Clinton and Obama. Nearly 2 million acres of sacred and pristine lands, cultural artifacts and rock art, and fossils in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument are now at risk of permanent damage due to development and agricultural use.

Why This Matters:  America is for sale.  These areas belonged to the original Americans — and then belonged to all Americans.  Now only a few — very few — Americans of this generation will profit from them — and future generations will be left with photos of their grandeur.  And for what?  To drill for more gas (we have plenty), mine for coal (which we don’t need), and graze cattle (which can graze elsewhere).  The great Interior Secretary Steward Udall asked these questions of his generation in the 1960s in his seminal book “The Quiet Crisis,” writing:  “Is a society a success if it creates conditions that…make a wasteland of its finest landscapes?  What does material abundance avail if we create an environment in which man’s highest and most specifically human attributes cannot be fulfilled?”  Exactly.  I (Monica) am old enough to remember an ad called “America the Beautiful” from 1971 and this haunting image (below) sums up our current predicament.

Can He Do That?

The 1906 Antiquities Act empowers a president to protect public lands of archaeological significance, but it is highly debatable whether monument status can be revoked once declared. In 2017, shortly after taking office, the Interior Department redrew the boundaries of these two monuments so that Grand Staircase was cut to half its former size and Bears Ears was cut by 85 percent.  According to NPR, “the law itself is unclear on who actually has the power to abolish or shrink national monument boundaries, and legal experts say it has traditionally been the responsibility of Congress to modify the size of public lands.”  Tribes whose land is involved were not consulted on the new management plans.

Not surprisingly, numerous conservation and tribal groups sued after the decision to shrink the monuments, and those cases are pending, but in the meantime, the Trump administration plans to move ahead with the new management plans.  A spokesman for the Interior Department said, “If we stopped and waited for every piece of litigation to be resolved, we would never be able to do much of anything around here.”

Defending The Decision

Utah Governor Gary Herbert praised the move: “As the Antiquities Act itself states, and as I have reiterated for years, monuments should be as small as possible to protect artifacts and cultural resources. And they should not be created over the objections of local communities. I’m happy to see the Administration develop management plans that protect areas with sensitive artifacts and yet still provide a way to use these lands for recreation, grazing, and management practices that will keep the lands healthy. The outcomes are always better when the federal government works with local communities rather than presumes to know what is best for them.”

“American the Beautiful” 1971

Up Next

Governor Proposes $536 Million To Fight 2021 California Wildfire Season

Governor Proposes $536 Million To Fight 2021 California Wildfire Season

As California’s wildfire season approaches, Governor Gavin Newsom is proposing $536 million in emergency and other funding to combat and prevent fires this year. The plan invests in additional firefighters, fuel breaks around vulnerable communities, and wildfire response capacity.  

Why This Matters: California’s 2020 fire season burned a record-breaking 4.2 million acres and experts say that severe drought may make this season even more destructive.

Continue Reading 538 words
Haaland Met with State and Tribal Leaders to Talk Future of Bears Ears National Monument

Haaland Met with State and Tribal Leaders to Talk Future of Bears Ears National Monument

Days after announcing a $1.6 billion investment into national parks, reserves, and Indigenous schools, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited Bears Ears National Monument to speak to Utah state and Tribal leaders about the future of the monument.

Why This Matters: In 2017, the Trump administration reduced the Monument by nearly one million acres and opened the land up to cattle grazing and off-road vehicles.

Continue Reading 638 words
Interior Invests $1.6 Billion in Parks, Preserves, and Indigenous Schools

Interior Invests $1.6 Billion in Parks, Preserves, and Indigenous Schools

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer The Department of the Interior announced Friday that it will use funds allocated by a conservation bill passed last year to fund 165 national park improvement projects that will create nearly 19,000 jobs.  The Biden administration has pledged to protect 30% of public lands and waters by 2030, but accomplishing that means completing deferred maintenance […]

Continue Reading 532 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.