Much controversy has erupted over President Trump’s recent decision to cut two debated upon national monuments in Utah: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. His decision takes away 85% of Bears Ears designation and 46% of Grand Staircase-Escalante’s; Bears Ears will be reduced from 1.35 million acres to 228,337 acres and split into two sections in the process while Grand Staircase-Escalante will be divided into three sections and reduced from 1.9 million acres to 1 million acres.
The impact of this news reverberates throughout many different spheres of people and beliefs. Several environmental advocates and Native American tribes plan to sue the President for the move, saying that it is illegal. (Indeed, the legality of this move is disputed, as Trump is the first president who has tried to modify monuments established under the Antiquities Act.) Ute Indian Tribe, Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Pueblo of Zuni have joined together to declare that they will file suit in the U.S. District Court for D.C. to challenge the action on Bears Ears. In addition, a coalition of eight environmental groups represented by Earthjustice has already begun the legal process for the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument.
Found and CEO of the Patagonia brand, Yvon Chouinard, is thinking along similar lines: "I'm going to sue him. It seems the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits. I think it's a shame that only 4% of American lands are national parks. Costa Rica's got 10%. Chile will now have way more parks than we have. We need more, not less. This government is evil and I'm not going to sit back and let evil win." (Check out Patagonia.com to see how the website has taken a stand, blacking out its homepage with the message “The President Stole Your Land”. The page provides an explanation of what’s happening with the option to learn more and take action. Social media is trending the news with the hashtag #MonumentalMistake.)
On the other side of the controversy are local ranchers, miners, and drillers who have always seen the monument designations as federal land grabs. San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman is glad that the President took the action he did. He comments that Bears Ears is the fifth national park or monument in his county and sets up the argument that tourism has had a bigger impact on the land than gas and oil extraction would. "By designating a monument, you are using a tool that will bring hordes of people to a place that is very sensitive," he says.
But Governor Gary R. Herbert (R) takes a less charged opinion, and looks at the decision as “an opportunity to push a reset button on these areas.” He doesn’t believe that lands removed from the designation will immediately be devoured by oil and gas companies looking for leases. “There is a lot of scaremongering,” out there he says, but “the only thing that smacks of energy is the uranium.”
No matter what side you’re on, the truth is that one of the consequences of this decision means that the land could now be opened up for new activities such as energy exploration or motorized vehicle use. According to the Washington Post, the decision could also affect the extent to which future presidents could decide that the lands stay protected. How do you feel about this?