National Monuments at Risk

Grand Staircse-Escalante, one of two Utah Monuments slated for downsizing. Photo courtesy Charlie O’Leary

Donald Trump had quite a week.

Trump’s former National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, in a plea deal that likely will send more than a few more heads rolling before the dust settles.

He got the only legislative victory of his tenure, a big tax bill that promises to raise taxes on the middle class but gives big ( “beautiful”) cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and adds a trillion bucks to the national debt over the next ten years.

He endorsed, and got the Republican National Committee to spend campaign money on, the former Alabama Supreme Court judge who twice was thrown out of office for illegally defying Federal court orders, now renowned for hitting on teenage girls back when he was a 30-something deputy district attorney.

Then, in an action that surprised nobody, Trump announced that he was taking action to vastly reduce the size of the Bears Ear and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah.

The reductions in these monuments will eliminate about 1.1 million acres from Bears Ear and 800,000 acres from Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Trump told a Salt Lake City audience that the actions would “reverse federal overreach,” and send a message to people who think, “that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by very distant bureaucrats located in Washington.”

In addition, the Washington Post reports that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will make further recommendations to reduce other monuments in Oregon and Nevada.

While Utah politicians cheered, not everybody is happy. A coalition of Native American tribes, including Ute, Hopi, Navajo, and Pueblo of Zuni, announced they will file suit in U.S District Court in Washington D.C. to challenge Trump’s action on Bears Ear. Another coalition of environmental groups has filed suit challenging reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Ironically, Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, and an opponent of Bears Ear National Monument, said he hoped the boost in tourism his county has had in the last year would continue.

Amy Roberts, president of the Outdoor Industry Association, noted that business has thrived in the 20 years since the creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante and “there’s a risk now that those people’s livelihoods will be threatened as people hear that the monument’s been cut in half and wonder whether it’s worth visiting.”

Greg McReynolds, one of several contributors to an upland hunting blog, Mouth Full of Feathers, notes that the heart of Trump’s proclamation is that lands “you could hunt and fish and explore when they were part of Bears Ear and Grand Staircase-Escalante” that were protected by national monument status “will be eligible for sale, strip mining and oil and gas development.”

A myriad of organizations, such as the Sierra Club, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Montana Wildlife Federation, and including outdoor gear retailer Patagonia, have registered protests against the downsizing of the national monuments. Patagonia’s website proclaims, “The president stole your lands.”

Closer to home, Charlie O’Leary, chairman of the Butte-Silverbow Urban Forest Board and a longtime public land advocate, posted a protest on his Facebook page, telling of many visits to “Red Rock Country to explore slot canyons, scamper around on the Navajo sandstone, and peer over vertical cliffs of purple, red and orange…I feel a great deal of disappointment and anger with Trump and Zinke as they attempt their public land grab to benefit their friends in the oil and coal industry.”

Spectacular desert scenery in endangered National Monuments. Photo courtesy Charlie O’Leary.

A minority voice in the outdoors community is Safari Club International, which issued a statement supporting the action, “We at Safari Club International applaud the decision…to protect access to millions of acres of public land in Utah…the Administration is affirming the benefit of traditional land uses…”

It is clear that the battle over National Monuments is just beginning, and the courts will decide whether a president can reverse the actions of previous presidents in creating national monuments.

What is also clear is that Donald Trump doesn’t understand that a president’s legacy is based on achievement. There won’t be any monuments erected to honor a president whose main accomplishments were to destroy the legacies of his predecessors.

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