Trump’s plans for development at Bears Ears monument sparks condemnation
Democrats and environmentalists are fuming over Trump administration plans for Utah’s Bears Ears monument that would open remaining lands for development after drastically shrinking the protection area in 2017.
Under a plan posted to the Federal Register Friday, the administration would allow land to be cleared of brush and trees and open up land for roads or utility lines.
“This proposed management plan confirms what we already knew: the Trump Administration has no interest in protecting the thousands of cultural and archeological sites in Bears Ears Monument or in seriously consulting with tribes on how best to manage their sacred ancestral lands,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said in a statement.
“This plan recklessly weakens protections even for the land that remains in the monument, failing to protect important sites from threats like ATV use, looting, vandalism, and damage from target shooting,” he added.
President Trump’s administration shrunk the scope of Bears Ears by about 85 percent early in his presidency, a move environmental groups are already challenging in court.
“If we win the legal fight to restore Bears Ears National Monument, this plan will just be 800 pages of wasted effort,” said Heidi McIntosh, an attorney with Earthjustice, which sued over the designation.
“Even in the parts of Bears Ears that President Trump left intact, he’s planning on putting destructive activities before the American public’s interests. Bears Ears is not the kind of place for chaining thousands of acres of forest or stringing up utility lines. These are wild, sweeping monument lands,” she added.
Bears Ears and another Utah monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante, had been at the center of a national debate over monuments and their permanence, fueled by an executive order from Trump that directed then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review dozens of previously created monuments.
Though the area is important to Western tribes and conservationists, many state leaders have long opposed the monuments. The Department of Interior tried to highlight local voices in a Friday release promoting the plan.
“These plans will provide a blueprint to protect the awe-inspiring natural and cultural resources that make this monument nationally significant, while enhancing recreational opportunities and ensuring access to traditional uses,” said Ed Roberson, Utah state director for the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within Interior.
But many have contended that shrinking the scope of the protected area of the monument does no such thing.
Beyond environmental groups, five different tribes have also sued over the changes at Bears Ears.
“Bears Ears is a treasure that everyone should be able to enjoy and should be protected for future generations who hold it sacred,” Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), one of the first Native American members of Congress, said in a statement.
“However, this Administration’s management plan only reinforces its illegal action to steal huge swaths of land from the national monument so that oil and gas and mining companies can exploit the land. It puts sacred sites at risk of being lost forever,” she added.