It’s official: acting on the advice of Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and at the behest of members of Utah’s congressional delegation, President Trump has formally signed an order modifying Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.
Under Trump’s plan, over 1 million acres of Bears Ears and nearly 1 million acres of Grand Staircase will lose protections. Many of those unprotected acres contain deposits of coal and uranium, meaning pressure to drill and mine them will return in full force.
We expected this day to come based on documents previously leaked from the Department of Interior. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less devastating to the dedicated communities of local residents, conservationists, scientists and tribal nations that fought for decades to see both these monuments come to fruition.
For years, Wildlands Network has supported these national monuments as the best way to protect wildlife habitat and regional wildways, including the renowned Kaibab-Paunsagunt wildlife corridor, a critical movement corridor for mule deer and other wide-ranging native species.
In response to this monumental mistake, many of our allies, including members of the Western Wildway Network, have already sued the Trump administration in federal court. It is sure to be a long legal battle, but we have both the law and the best legal minds on our side. We fully expect to prevail in protecting these precious places.
Every National Monument Is At Risk
What is most troubling is that every statement and action by both Utah’s congressional delegation and Secretary Zinke suggest that their brazen attacks on public lands are only just beginning. Utah representative Rob Bishop has already introduced legislation in Congress that would fundamentally alter the century-old Antiquities Act, on which presidents of both parties have relied to protect some of our most special public lands. His bill would limit the types of areas that could be designated, require states to sign off—even though these lands are held in trust for all Americans—and create a legal way for monuments to be reduced, leaving public lands protections teetering under the whims of political operatives.
Did you know Grand Canyon National Park began as a national monument, designated by President Roosevelt? Many of our national parks and storied landmarks were first designated as national monuments to protect them from vandalism, exploitation and inaction by Congress.
Meanwhile, members of Utah’s state legislature have continued their calls for public lands to be given to the states, calling this recent action “a good step” toward loftier goals. They hope to find sympathetic ears in the Republican-controlled Congress to get legislation passed to achieve these ends.
While this may seem far-fetched, one only needs to look at the recent inclusion of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) drilling in the tax package to see how public lands can be sacrificed without much public notice, even when members of Congress have previously said they would never support such actions.
And outside of Utah, the most recent documents released by the Department of Interior show that Secretary Zinke and President Trump aren’t done messing with our national monuments. The Secretary’s final report specifically identifies Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada as targets for boundary modification.
It also targets numerous monuments for changes in management, which could open them up to exploitation and development. We expect lawsuits to also follow any of these actions, and our partners at the Western Environmental Law Center have already announced their intention to use the courts to defend Cascade-Siskiyou.
Take Action Now
At times like this, it can seem like resistance is futile or that we have to just sit back and let the lawyers sort it out, but in fact it’s never been more important to engage and make sure your voice is heard.
Take back your national monuments and wild places from the Trump Administration. Contact your Senators now.