BLM issues final plan for reduced Utah monument

The Trump administration has finalized a proposal for management of Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that allows more cattle grazing around the monument and allows some area around the monument to be mined for coal or natural gas.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued its final proposal for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which cuts 1,345 square miles from the monument's legal designation. 

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The agency's plan also does not recognize any areas of critical environmental concern and allows for visitors to take non-dinosaur fossils from some areas outside of the actual monument itself. An initial plan reconsidered by the bureau would have allowed for such collection inside the monument and would have allowed for ATV traffic in the area as well.

Environmentalists slammed the Trump administration for reducing the size of the monument and downgrading protections on the surrounding areas.

“Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the nation’s public land crown jewels and from the outset the Trump administration was hell-bent on destroying this place,” said Steve Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, according to the AP.

The monument was created in 1996 under President Clinton, and the decision to shrink its land designation comes after a similar decision to shrink the Bears Ears monument designated by President Obama by about 85 percent.

Grand Staircase's acting manager Harry Barber told the AP that those seeking to take advantage of the monument would still have to abide by federal regulations.

“It’s not a free-for-all,” Barber told the news service. “That seems to be what I hear a lot, people feeling like now anybody can go out and do anything they want to do on these lands. But, they need to realize that we still have our rules and policies.”

An executive order signed by the president in 2017 directed then-Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Overnight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule MORE to review dozens of national monuments for possible reduction in size or other changes in operation. The order spurred a national debate over the monuments, with critics arguing that the Trump administration was weakening environmental protections in important areas.

House Democrats say the plan is inappropriate in the wake of a Government Accountability Office investigation into whether the Interior Department can spend money to conduct leasing activities in certain established national monuments.

“The Trump administration is wasting taxpayer dollars that should go to protecting our public lands and using them to open important places to destructive fossil fuel extraction,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement. “Never mind the climate, never mind the law, never mind public opinion – they continue to destroy our protected places for the benefit of their industry friends. This is a dangerous precedent for all our national monuments."

Several environmental groups have sued over Trump's 2017 executive order and say the latest BLM plan is premature.

“The management plans issued today are a waste of time and money; the administration should wait until after the court rules on Trump’s slashing of Grand Staircase before spending resources on new plans," the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the parties in the suit, said in a release.

Updated at 11:19 a.m.