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

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