Energy & Environment

Trump administration finalizes plans to shrink Bears Ears, Grand Staircase monuments


The Trump administration has finalized plans to dramatically shrink the scope of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments despite an ongoing legal challenge from environmentalists and Native American tribes.

Officials said during a call with reporters that the finalized plans were similar to previous proposals but contained some “tweaks,” including that cattle will not graze on a large portion the Escalante River.

“We are advancing our goal to restore trust and be a good neighbor,” said Casey Hammond, the acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management.

President Trump in 2017 issued proclamations to shrink the size of both Utah monuments. The administration decided to shrink Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase by about half.

Hammond told reporters Thursday that Trump’s 2017 proclamations “return certain lands to multiple use, removing them from the boundaries of the national monument” but that the new decisions “do not authorize the transfer of any lands out of federal ownership.”

Critics have expressed concern that the plans for Bears Ears would open certain lands for development.

“This president is willing to inflict lasting damage on our country to benefit his industry boosters, and anyone who invests a dollar in drilling or digging in the newly opened areas should be prepared to lose their bet against public opinion and the strength of our legal system,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

Conservation groups blasted the administration’s announcement.

“The only certainty today’s announcement creates is of a long drawn-out court fight to stop yet another unprecedented attack on America’s public lands by the Trump administration. With these plans, the administration is racing to allow new development on formerly protected public lands before the courts can overturn its illegal action,” Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement.

Heidi McIntosh, an attorney with Earthjustice who is working on the legal challenge, told The Hill that in light of the announcement, asking for a preliminary injunction is “on the table.”

She added that finalizing the plan is a “waste of government resources” because “if the judge finds that the president acted without authority to roll back the monuments, then these plans immediately become obsolete.”

Bears Ears was designated by former President Obama in 2016 and Grand Staircase was designated in 1996 by former President Clinton.  

The shrinking of the monuments has been vigorously opposed by Native American tribes with ties to the protected areas.

“Today’s announcement from the administration doubles down on the biggest rollback of protected lands in our nation’s history,” Tracy Stone-Manning with the National Wildlife Federation said in a statement.

Stone-Manning said the “illegal decimation” of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments would open up ancestral lands for developments, including Navajo, Hopi and Ute mountains, which “could degrade wildlife habitat, threaten cultural sites and expose communities in southern Utah to unacceptable pollution and health risks.”

“We look forward to the day when the rightful boundaries of these two monuments are restored,” she added.

–Updated at 2:58 p.m. 

Tags Bears Ears Donald Trump Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments
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