Standing in front of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, President Donald Trump ended just over three months worth of suspense as he announced his decision on the future of several National Monuments. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted his report in August on the monuments he was tasked to review, but it wasn’t until today when the White House finally confirmed Trump’s plans to severely reduce the square footage of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments in Southern Utah.
Though Trump made no mention of either of Nevada’s monuments placed under review, today’s developments may lead to lasting implication for public lands across the nation.
What was under review, and why?
In April, the Trump Administration announced Zinke would review 27 National Monuments that were declared in the past 20 years. The review included two Nevada monuments that were declared by President Barack Obama: Basin and Range, which was declared in July 2015; and Gold Butte, which was declared in December 2016. The review also included two monuments in Utah: Grand Staircase-Escalante, declared by President Bill Clinton in September 1996; and Bears Ears, declared by Obama in December 2016.
Throughout the review process, local community leaders complained that Zinke was not listening to their messages in support of keeping the monuments wholly intact. Here in Nevada, Zinke visited Gold Butte in July without meeting with any of the local stakeholders he had promised to consult. And in Utah, reports leaked in October that the White House had already decided to weaken protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante as a favor for Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and other prominent Utah Republicans.
“I don’t think it’s controversial, actually. I think it’s sensible.”
– President Donald Trump, on his monuments decision
Before Trump took the stage, Zinke spoke to defend the administration’s actions. “This is about giving rural America a voice,” Zinke said. He continued, “The President is doing this for the right reasons to make sure that Utah has a voice.”
Trump then made this assessment of what he was about to announce: “I don’t think it’s controversial, actually. I think it’s sensible.” Trump then tried to frame his decision as the giving of land back to the people of Utah: “Reverse federal overreach, and restore the rights of [the] land to your citizens.”
Shortly after Trump spoke, reporters learned that he had just ordered the slashing of Bears Ears from about 1.3 million acres to only 220,000 acres, and the shrinking of Grand Staircase-Escalante from 1.8 million acres to about 1 million acres. The White House also plans to redesignate the remaining protected areas as smaller preserves, and potentially open some of the undesignated Bears Ears lands to fossil fuel drilling.
“Unless you agree with [Trump’s] opinion, their outreach to you is nonexistent.”
– Barbara Hartzell, Member of the Chemehuevi Tribe
Minutes after Trump’s speech, we spoke with Barbara Hartzell, a member of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe. She condemned the Trump Administration’s failure to include all local stakeholders, particularly Native American tribes, in their decision. “Their outreach has been very limited,” Hartzell said. “Unless you agree with [Trump’s] opinion, their outreach to you is nonexistent.”
“I think it’s pretty disgraceful,” Hartzell added. “This is another bureaucrat, as [Trump] claims he’s not, has removed protections for our lands that have been here long before any kind of designation.”
Even though Trump made no announcement on Gold Butte or Basin and Range today, Hartzell spoke out against any potential future attempts to weaken protections for either of Nevada’s monuments. “There are voices out there, saying, ‘Please save these lands for our future.’ That’s what they’re for. They’re not to be sold off,” Hartzell exclaimed.
Despite Trump’s order, this monumental fight isn’t over just yet.
Within three hours of Trump’s announcement, five Native American tribes, Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian, announced their lawsuit against Trump for issuing these proclamations to reduce the monuments. Even though the Antiquities Act of 1906 establishes the President’s right to establish National Monuments, it doesn’t specify Presidential authority to revoke the designation of a National Monument or reduce its acreage.
Meanwhile, Nevadans continue to watch the White House for any indication of what might lie ahead for our public lands. With the fight over Utah’s monuments moving into federal court, Trump may not ultimately have the last word on any of the reviewed monuments.
Cover photo provided by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, made available by Wikimedia, and licensed under Creative Commons.