On Monday, President Trump announced his plans to eliminate a combined two million acres of public lands protection from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
The move effects a slew of pristine paddling locations within the monuments. It will be the largest elimination of public lands in American history.
“It will be one of the great, really, events in this country in a long time,” said Trump prior to boarding Air Force One for Utah. “So important for states’ rights and so important for the people of Utah.”
In place of the two large national monuments, the plan is to reduce them into five, much smaller monuments.
According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Bears Ears will be downsized into two separate areas: Shah Jaa at 129,980 acres and Indian Creek at 71,896 acres. A far cry from the current 1.35 million protected acres that President Barack Obama established last December.
As for the Grand Staircase—a 1.9 million acre national monument designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996—it will be trimmed to just over one million acres that are divided into three monuments: Grand Staircase at 209,993 acres, Kaiparowits at 551,034 acres and Escalante Canyon at 242,836 acres.
"The president is delivering on his campaign promise to give the state and local communities a voice, which I think is absolutely important," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told The Salt Lake Tribune. "Public lands are for public use and not for special interests."
Though ironically, ending federal protections means that now the land could be sold to and exploited by special interest groups, including the fossil fuel, mining and logging industries. The decision comes following months of intense lobbying from Utah’s Republican leaders to eliminate the two national monuments.
Bears Ears is home to over 100,000 sacred Native American ruins, as well as countless fossils and priceless archeological records. Not to mention, its sweeping canyons and stunning rock formations provide pristine recreational opportunities, including standup paddling on the San Juan River.
Not surprisingly, the decision was met with serious blowback from environmental groups and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition–made up of the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe, Hopi and the Pueblo of Zuni.
"The Navajo Nation has made repeated requests to meet with President Trump on this issue. The Bears Ears Monument is of critical importance, not only to the Navajo Nation but to many tribes in the region," Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said. "The decision to reduce the size of the Monument is being made with no tribal consultation. The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears. The reduction in the size of the Monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision."
The final decision will ultimately go to the courts, with a heated battle centered around the interpretation of a law signed more than 100 years ago: the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Used more than 150 times, the law is intended to provide safeguards to exceptional historic, cultural and natural landscapes across the country. While previous presidents have adjusted and even reduced the size of national monuments in the past, never before has a president attempted to gut two million acres.
A court will soon decide whether that authority rests with the president or Congress. If they rule in favor of the President, more national monuments may soon fall.
Following a review of 27 national monuments designated since 1996, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recommended reducing the size of six of those. These include two national monuments in the Pacific Ocean: the Pacific Remote Islands near Hawaii and the Rose Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
During that review, the Interior Department received 2.4 million public comments about the national monuments, nearly all in favor of protecting them.
We’ll bring you updates as the story unfolds. –JH