The largest elimination of protected national public lands in our nation’s history
With a simple signature, President Donald Trump just eliminated protections for more than two million acres of national public lands.
It’s the largest elimination of public land and wildlife protections in our nation’s history. And it sets a terrible precedent that puts all of our treasured outdoor spaces — national parks, forests and monuments — at risk of being eliminated.
On President Trump’s chopping block were Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments, which effectively no longer exist.
Grand Staircase–Escalante had been protected as a national monument for more than 20 years. Its unspoiled cliffs and plateaus provide a needed economic boost for rural communities in Southern Utah, serving as a living laboratory for researchers, explorers, and visitors from across the world. The monument has been described as a “treasure trove” for paleontology, offering scientists a rare glimpse into the ancient environments of the American West.
Nearly half of the public lands that make up Grand Staircase-Escalante will be left unprotected after President Trump’s proclamation. The three much smaller national monuments that replace Grand Staircase-Escalante will not include the enchanting Toadstools, historic Hole-in the-Rock Road, world-class slot canyons, and many yet-to-be discovered dinosaur fossils.
Bears Ears National Monument was designated in 2016. It was a long overdue victory for the five sovereign tribal nations with a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land and who fought for more than 80 years to protect it. The national monument has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of cultural and archaeological sites, which experienced rampant looting and vandalism prior to their protection.
President Trump’s proclamation eliminates more than 85 percent of Bears Ears National Monument. The two smaller national monuments left in its place do not protect an estimated 56,000 archaeological sites including Citadel Ruins and Grand Gulch, or the rock art at Beef Basin, the Navajo and White Mesa Ute hunting grounds in the Cottonwood Wash and Tank Mesa, the buttes of White Canyon, the fossil-rich lower section of the San Juan River, and Valley of the Gods’ cinematic landscape.
Now the unprotected lands that were once Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments will be opened up for oil, coal and uranium extraction.
President Trump’s proclamation is likely illegal and will be immediately challenged in court by the Native American groups and sovereign tribal nations he has once again disrespected.
It’s also extremely unpopular. More than 98 percent of the 2.8 million comments received by the U.S. Interior Department during its 60-day review period told Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Trump to keep their hands off our national monuments. However, the review period turned out to be a sham and the public’s concerns were summarily dismissed in Secretary Zinke’s embarrassingly error-riddled report.
We hope the courts, and eventually the voters, make sure President Trump and Secretary Zinke do not get away with this. But it remains a sad day for those of us who love our public lands.
America’s national parks, forests and monuments represent a promise to future generations: that what’s protected will always be cherished and respected.
President Trump and Secretary Zinke have broken that promise.