In an unprecedented move–albeit one that was expected–President Trump today announced the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in front of a gathered assembly in Utah. The move is the greatest land deregulation in the history of the United States.
“It feels like a slap in the face to Americans who have spoken out to protect these areas during the process,” says Hans Cole, Patagonia’s director of environmental activism.
By essentially using the Antiquities Act in reverse, Trump signed a declaration reducing Grand Staircase-Escalante from 1.9 million acres to 1,006,341, and gutted Bears Ears National Monument, reducing it in size from 1.35 million acres to 228,784.
The move by President Trump is certainly unprecedented, and its legality is under intense scrutiny. The Native American Rights Fund today told The Inertia that it is filing a lawsuit against the president in federal court. NARF represents the Zuni, Hopi, and the Ute Mountain Ute tribes. The Navajo represent themselves and the Utes have seperate council but all five tribes are filing as one coalition says Natalie Landreth, NARF’s senior staff attorney. “One, (President Trump) directly violated the Antiquities Act, which doesn’t give him the authority to (take land away),” Landreth says. “He can’t revoke and replace with new monuments. He also violated the separation of powers in the constitution. Under the Properties Clause, only congress can dispose of federal properties.”
Basically, the office of the president was allowed a small loophole–the Antiquities Act, created by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906–to protect lands and that loophole doesn’t allow presidents to take land back. Downsizing of monuments has occured, says Landreth, but not at this size and scale and it has never been challenged in court.
All legalities aside, and since the president didn’t directly adress it in his speech in Salt Lake City today, serious digging must be done to understand why Trump is making this move now. “I’m a real estate developer,” Trump said, using an oddly-timed reference to his development past during his speech. “When they start talking about millions of acres, I say, ‘Say it again?’ Because that’s a lot. Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what, they’re wrong.”
So that would be one answer, philosophically: conservative politicians have traditionally sided with the notion that public lands should be controlled by states. But that has continually been proven as faulty discourse, given that much of these lands are often sold to private hands or used for development and as Patagonia’s Cole said, the public process for Bears Ears approval included some three million people from across the political spectrum. “It’s not a partisan issue,” he says.
And that leaves resource extraction, but as we reported last week, natural resource extraction companies don’t even appear on a list from 2015 of Utah’s top 50 employers. And there reportedly isn’t a new boon of resources available anyway. Many think this is simply political backscratching–as Landreth pointed out, referencing Colorado Senator Tom Udall’s recent accusation that Trump is simply doing Utah’s Republican Senator Orrin Hatch a favor for backing the president on his tax plan.
“If you’re going to remove federal protections, there should be something good on the other side,” says Landreth. And since this land is rich in Native American heritage, outdoor recreation options and adventure tourism opportunities if left as monuments, nobody is exactly sure what the benefits are of shrinking the federally protected areas. But plenty of people would love to hear an explanation directly from the president’s mouth.