President Donald Trump has announced his intentions to shrink national monuments created under the Antiquities Act by previous administrations, giving a boost to grazing advocates but infuriating environmental groups in the process.
Trump made the announcement Monday from Salt Lake City, Utah, the home state to two of the monuments being shrunk: the Bears Ears National Monument created during the Obama administration and the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument created under the Clinton administration. Trump said the decision was based on local input and would benefit communities near the designations.
“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,” Trump said. “The families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best, and you know best how to take care of your land.”
“Public lands will once again be for public use,” he added.
Trump’s decision is broken down into two executive actions: one for Bears Ears and one for the Grand Staircase-Escalante. The Bears Ears designation will be transformed from one monument encompassing nearly 1.35 million acres into two separate monuments with a total 228,784 acres. The Staircase-Escalante monument will shrink from almost 1.9 million acres into three monuments totaling just over 1 million acres.
In all, Trump’s actions turned two monuments totaling about 3.25 million acres into five monuments encompassing around 1.23 million acres.
Trump’s decision comes under immediate legal scrutiny as opponents claim he lacks the authority to shrink previously established monuments. Last week, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva claimed that Trump’s decision – a rumor at the time – is “illegal and will face a series of court challenges.” The Arizona Democrat pointed to a number of past legal and legislative affirmations of the Staircase-Escalante designation, and he says the Bears Ears designation would be similarly upheld.
“Old white men sitting in Washington don’t get to dictate what is and is not sacred to Native Americans,” Grijalva said Monday. “Bears Ears is protected today because President Obama listened to tribes and the American people instead of the oil and gas industry. We can’t say the same for the Trump administration.”
Grijalva was echoed by Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. O’Mara called the decision “the largest single attack in history on our nation’s conservation heritage.” Unsurprisingly, the Natural Resources Defense Council also came out against the change and is pledging to file suit to block the move.
Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said the move to act administratively to shrink the monuments sets a bad precedent.
“There is a right and a wrong way to go about this, and the administration’s decision to skirt Congress in these decisions threatens to upend 111 years of conservation in America, putting at risk the future of any monument created under the Antiquities Act dating back to 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt created Devils Tower,” Fosburgh said. “If a president can redraw national monuments at will, the integrity of the Antiquities Act is compromised and many of America’s finest public lands face an immediate risk of exploitation.”
News also surfaced last week that the Forest Service did not offer any recommendations on whether or not to remove monument protection from its own acreage.
But local lawmakers and ranchers cheered the decision. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said shrinking the monuments “represents a balanced solution and a win for everyone on all sides of the issue.” He said this could also pave the way for more local input when considering future designations.
Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said Trump’s actions “are a first step toward protecting identified antiquities without disenfranchising the local people who work and manage these areas.”
In response to the environmental groups who claim their voices are not being heard, Ethan Lane, with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council, said ranchers have felt that way for years.
“This feeling (those groups) have right now of being upset by this process, this is the feeling that ranchers and landowners around the West who have felt, this desperation, for decades now,” Lane said. “We'd ask them to join us in and looking for ways to make sure that this act is inclusive and really considers all viewpoints.”
NCBA and PLC have been concerned about what designations could do to grazing allotments on lands that would end up protected by a monument designation. They say Antiquities Act protection handcuffs producers who use those lands to feed their cattle, and those same producers already care for the land without a monument designation.
“It would take away the freedom of the people that’s here, they couldn't go use the land like we've been using it,” Sandy Johnson, a Utah rancher near the former Bears Ears designation, said. “They wouldn't have nothing to save if we didn’t already save it.”
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