Trump slashes size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments in Utah

from December 4, 2017 at 04:09PM

Donald Trump reversed another Barack Obama action on Monday by significantly shrinking two national monuments in Utah.

The president signed two proclamations modifying designations for Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears.

“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump told a gathering in Salt Lake City, Utah. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”

He added: “You know best how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come.”

The president described it as “a historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens”.

Trump said he had consulted widely with the state’s two US Senators and been assured the step would not be controversial. “I don’t think it is controversial, actually. I think it is so sensible.”

He described the Obama-era designations as a threat to people’s way of life and promised: “Public lands will once again be for public use.”

Earlier, on Air Force One, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters that Bears Ears will be reduced from 1.5m acres to 220,000 acres, while Staircase will be cut from 2m acres to 1m acres. Zinke insisted that this is not an energy issue – there is no oil and gas in Bears Ears – though there is coal in Staircase.

But Trump’s move to shrink the national monuments represents a triumph for fossil fuel industries, ranchers and Republicans, particularly those representing Utah, who have pushed the president to undo protections put in place by previous administrations that curb activities such as oil drilling and cattle grazing.

In April, promising to “end another egregious use of government power”, Trump ordered a review of national monuments declared since the 1990s.

Zinke, who has been a vocal proponent of allowing greater development including mining on public lands, recommended shrinking six monuments and altering the management plans of a further four.

If Trump follows through with all those recommendations, protected areas in Nevada, Oregon and California would be resized, as well as two vast marine monuments in the Pacific ocean. The areas could be remodeled to allow activities such as timber production, grazing or commercial fishing.

Zinke told reporters on Air Force One that “no one loves public land more than I do” and he is a “steadfast believer in public lands for public use” but added: “When a monument is used to prevent rather than protect, the president is right to take action.”
In the case of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Zinke said the whole Utah congressional delegation supports Trump’s move, as well as the governor and commissioner that represents the Navajo districts

But while the Trump administration has touted an economic boon from an influx of development, opponents point out that the tourism and local business stimulated by monument declarations is often far more valuable. Companies such as Patagonia, the clothing firm, have railed against Trump’s plan.

In Utah, the president’s decision prompted protests before his arrival to announce it. On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators converged on the steps of the Utah state capitol.

“There’s nothing in our data that’d say, politically, that this is popular,” Lori Weigel, a Republican pollster in Denver, told the Associated Press of efforts to trim monuments.

“I can’t say why Utah elected officials have taken this on more than in other states. But we see widespread recognition that designation of protected land is valued.”

The monuments provide a bulwark for intrinsic values such as natural beauty, endangered species and, importantly to local tribes, heritage. Bears Ears, named after two towering buttes in the heart of the protected area, has around 100,000 archaeological sites, including native American ceremonial grounds, graves and rock art.

The five Native American tribes that form the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition say legal action is likely against Trump’s decisions on monuments in Utah. Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe business committee, told the Guardian this week Trump’s policy was “another slap in the face in the overall relationship between the federal government and the tribes, and local people”.

US presidents are given sweeping power to protect land and waters under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which was signed by Theodore Roosevelt, an avowed hunter and conservationist. Since then, more than 150 sites have been unilaterally designated monuments by presidents, including the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.

Barack Obama frequently wielded this power amid Republican howls about executive overreach, creating or expanding 34 national monuments, including Bears Ears in December.

The Trump administration’s attempt to scale back this legacy will almost certainly encounter a thicket of legal action from enraged environmental groups.

“This is a shameful and illegal attack on our nation’s protected lands,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service now head of Defenders of Wildlife. “Teddy Roosevelt is rolling in his grave. We’ll be seeing President Trump in court.”

Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate energy and natural resources committee, said: “Veterans, sportsmen, climbers, hikers and the outdoor economy all depend on open space.

“‎Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante have been driving a vibrant outdoor economy for years. Now President Trump is using unlawful authority to pollute these special places. His administration deserves an ‘F’ for stewardship.”

Read more at: World news | The Guardian

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