The Trump anti-conservation train keeps on steaming full speed ahead.
Less than two weeks after withdrawing the United States from key international climate talks, the administration has announced it intends to revoke protections for portions of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.
Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on June 12 his recommendation to revoke protections for large portions of the monument that protects stunning red rock canyonlands and thousands of Native American cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and cultural sites. The recommendation was accompanied by an interim report to the president with a final report to be made later this year.
Zinke would not say the acres to remain protected, but indicated that it would be the “smallest area possible area” and that those protections would be focused on only a few of the best-known landmarks in Bears Ears.
Image: Bob Wick, BLM.
“The focus will be on historic sites and less so on surrounding lands,” which Zinke nonetheless characterized as being “drop-dead gorgeous.”
Whatever the new boundaries, Zinke’s proposal will clearly leave out wilderness areas and important lands that paleontologists say harbor undiscovered fossils that will be lost to science if left unprotected.
All the other sacred sites and cultural resources that perhaps aren’t the best known will be vulnerable to the very destruction the monument was designed to prevent.
So why would anyone want to revoke protections for drop-dead gorgeous red rock canyonlands and thousands of historic and cultural sites held sacred by Native American tribes?
Bears Ears has been contested by a vocal minority of anti-conservation Utah politicians who would prefer to see Utah lands leased to mineral extraction and other development or privatization. These politicians have had the ears of the president and have been aiming for a revocation of protections since November when Trump was elected. Most notable is Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) who leads the House Natural Resources Committee and has led robust anti-conservation campaigns for years, not just in Utah but across the West.
But revoking national monument protections is unprecedented in the modern era and it does seem hard to fathom, especially knowing that the Bears Ears designation received widespread support from local Native American tribes, Utahns and Americans across the country when President Obama made the designation in 2016.
Bears Ears was also the first national monument to be proposed and supported by a coalition of five sovereign tribal governments who wanted to end the looting, vandalism and grave-robbing that has plagued their ancestral lands for years.
Image: Mason Cummings/TWS
Setting a dangerous precedent
Truly the attack on Bears Ears is an attack on all national monuments. Not only does it set a dangerous precedent for all of our monuments, parks and public lands, but on a very practical level it does not bode well for the more than two dozen additional monuments the administration is reviewing as part of their anti-conservation crusade.
In fact, Zinke’s recommendation comes just 45 days after Trump’s controversial executive order to review up to 27 national monuments with an eye toward shrinking their boundaries or rescinding them all together. During that time, the Interior Department allowed a limited 15-day comment period for Bears Ears that saw more than 700,0000 public comments in support of keeping the monument intact. Yet the Administration apparently ignored them.
All other monuments are to receive recommendations later this summer following a comment period that closes July 10 (with the Bears Ears comment period to reopen until then). All options remain on the table for the monuments under review.
Bears Ears and all other monuments belong to you
Americans own the national monuments that Trump and his team are threatening. The designation of monuments included years, if not decades, of work and support by local residents who petitioned for their protection. Past presidents who designated such monuments did so through the rightful authority of the Antiquities Act and in response to the public’s requests.
We must stand by Bears Ears.
And after that we must fight for all other monuments that are at risk right now.