Trump Guts Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments

On Monday, December 4, Donald Trump made the announcement conservation advocates have been both expecting and dreading: He’s†downsizing two national monuments established by President Barack Obama in Utah by a total of nearly two million acres.

Bears Ears will lose 80 percent of its area, while Grand Staircase-Escalante will shrink by 45 percent. The issue is already heading to court, creating an important showdown for conservation policy†with a fundamental question: Was Trump’s spiteful move, driven by pressure from industrial interests, legal?

Both monuments were created under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to designate national monuments in the interest of protecting sites of scientific, cultural and historical interest.†The Antiquities Act†has been used numerous times throughout history to protect a variety of spaces, and this isn’t the first time the policy has been a subject of controversy.

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante both include a number of important Native American cultural sites, while Grand Staircase also has formations of immense geologic value. But designation as a national monument doesn’t mean that a site is off-limits to everyone, as conservatives seem to like implying. In fact, both sites are open to the public, and visitors are encouraged to†learn more about the region’s†environmental and cultural history.

Designating national monuments doesn’t affect existing rights of way, and activities like hunting, fishing, logging, off-roading and grazing are still allowed.†The sites can’t be opened up†for new road construction and intensified industrial activity, like†mining operations, though — and that’s a sore spot for people like Ryan Zinke. The secretary of the Interior, who never met a rock formation he didn’t want to mine,†is a big fan of oil drilling and coal.

Conservative claims that national monuments constitute a land grab ring a bit hollow. That’s especially true when you take a look at the voice of the people on this issue — of the 2.5 million comments received in regards to the review of these two sites, 98 percent favored retaining or even expanding the boundaries of these national monuments.

While the Antiquities Act isn’t very popular in Utah, the people enthused about Trump’s move reflect only a very small percentage of the U.S. population, and it’s unjust to give them ultimate say over how to handle collective national heritage. Most importantly, Native communities — those with the most vested stake in these sites –†very much oppose†the decision,†seeing it as the latest iteration in a long line of broken promises by the federal government.

Critics†claim that while the Antiquities Act allows presidents to create national monuments, it doesn’t establish legal precedent to shrink them — this, they insist, would require an act of Congress. Proponents†maintain that†the act requires the smallest possible footprint to protect cultural resources — and that these sites reflected an overreach that Trump is simply correcting. The†looming lawsuits from a variety of stakeholders†could†determine†the shape of land management in the U.S., particularly in the West, for decades or even generations.

It’s especially worrying given the Trump administration’s efficiency when it comes to packing judicial benches across the United States. Trump has appointed a number of conservative extremists, some with little to no qualifications, to preside over courtrooms†and make decisions in critical cases like this one. When the mouthpieces of special interests are the ones making the caselaw, the American people are likely to lose out.

Take Action!

Activists are calling for Trump to consider reversing his decision, and you can join them by signing this Care2 petition. You can also contact your members of Congress by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121,†urging them to take action to protect this vital cultural resource.

Photo credit: IIP Photo Archive


Cathy B
Cathy B14 hours ago

The Trump family murder wildlife to show the world how " macho " they are and to make matters worse Trump is now destroying National Monuments. He needs to be fetched by men wearing long white coats!!

M s
M syesterday

NO PRESIDENT has the authority to DOWNSIZE OUR national parks,reserves,monuments or public land of ANY KIND!!!!!! Our COURTS MUST STOP this now! where is our congress? oh yeah........they are in bed with ranchers and have money tied up in oil industry I AM EMBARRASSED of my own country Mr Trump LIED TO ALL OF US! he said we 'd have a voice ...surprise..we DON'T

Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O2 days ago

We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life molds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions. I have signed also. This must not happen.

Anne F
Anne F2 days ago

special places (historical, ceremonial, scenic) deserve special protection

Rudica R
Rudica R2 days ago

Disgusting, putrid, moron .....cheeto man. So intent on wiping President from History he will destroy the beautiful and sacred lands we have left in our Nation. just red this:

Winn Adams
Winn A2 days ago


Winn Adams
Winn A2 days ago

Petition Signed

Debra G
Debra G2 days ago

Humor from Andy Borowitz: Trump shrunk the National parks to make his hands look bigger.

While this seems to set the bar at ground level, you can be sure Drumpfelthinskin will find a way to go lower.

Richard A
Richard A2 days ago

When considering the liar-in-chief's actions regarding national monuments and the rights of indigenous people one must also consider that one of the liar-in-chief's favorite prior presidents in Andrew Jackson.

Yes, *That* Andrew Jackson; He of the Trail of Tears.

Marigold A
Marigold A2 days ago

It's not a done deal yet.