National Monument Reductions Prompt Controversies and Lawsuits
President Donald Trump has announced a large reduction in size for Utah’s two national monuments during a visit to the state on Dec. 4. The two targeted national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, will see their sizes be reduced to about fifteen and fifty percent of their original sizes, respectively.
The Bear Ears National Monument will see its acreage reduced from 1.3 million to about 220,000 while the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will see its acreage reduced from about 1.9 million to about 1 million.
The reduction will free up land previously protected to new private economic activities such as cattle grazing and mining.
The creation of the two national monuments is based on the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to unilaterally designate and create national monuments, as opposed to the more complicated process of a designating and creating a national park.
The Bear Ears National Monument was created by President Obama during the final days of the Obama administration while the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was created by President Clinton in 1996.
The creation of Bear Ears National Monument was heavily criticized by Utah’s Republican congressional delegation, including Senator Mike Lee, on the grounds of overreaching by the federal government and the loss of private usage of local land.
On the other hand, the move was hailed as a historic victory by conversation and environmental groups and local Native American tribes, seeking to preserve local biodiversity and areas of cultural importance.
Trump has echoed Republicans’ criticisms, declaring that the Antiquities Act allowed bureaucrats to encroach on the rights of “the expense of the people who actually live here, work here and make this place their home.”
The Navajo Nation announced its intention to sue the federal government’s move and claimed that it was not consulted regarding the reduction despite repeated attempts at holding talks with the Trump administration.
The reduction will affect lands that contain ancient artifacts and sacred burial grounds of the Navajos, many of whom took the streets of Salt Lake City on December 3 to protest the anticipated move by the Trump administration.
Ten environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and National Resources Defense, have jointly filed a lawsuit claiming that the Trump administration does not have the authority to reduce national monument sizes under the Antiquities Act. Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, has also signaled its intention to file a lawsuit against the reduction.