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


Sue H
Sue H7 months ago

May his grandchildren Spit on his grave.

Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

Mark Donner
Mark Donner1 years ago

It's not over yet, Trump doesn't have the legal authority to do this, and big lawsuits are in the works. it will be decided in the courts. Zinke is a psychopathic terrorist along with Pruitt and both should be taken down by swat teams as a national security threat.

Pat P
Pat P1 years ago

How can one person be so continuously selfish, spiteful and hateful?! He is the most narcissistic sociopath, our government has known. He wants to destroy everything good in America, supported by the horrible GOP Congress. Trump was to let the filthy fossil fuel corporations and corrupt developers take over our natural parks/monuments/refuges, while killing our precious wildlife. Just like their egregious move to allow drilling in the most pristine wildlife refuge remaining in this country--Alaska--despite their state law against it.

This is public land and should remain that way! It is our history! If any of this land is given to our states, they will, likely, sell it to corporations to ruin--especially, in the red states, to make more money and make their donors and the superwealthy even more so.

America will never be the same, if we don't stop this wannabe authoritarian dictator!

Our country is in dangerous territory, and many don't care or even realize it.

Cathy B
Cathy B1 years 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 s1 years ago

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 O1 years 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 F1 years ago

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

Rudica R
Rudica R1 years 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 Adams1 years ago