Trying to shrink Bears Ears, Trump makes it clear whose heritage he cares about

Protecting Native American history is bad, Confederate monuments are good, public lands are for drilling, and national parks are for the rich

President Trump signs an executive order at the Department of the Interior in April, surrounded by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Senator Orrin Hatch | Department of the Interior

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said Friday that President Trump had called him to announce his intent to dramatically shrink Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. It is hard to ignore the crystal clear messages sent by Trump’s administration this week — protecting Native American history is bad, Confederate monuments are good, and national parks are for rich people only.

The red rock landscape of Bears Ears National Monument is filled with tens of thousands of archaeological sites and is considered sacred to nearby Native American tribes, who asked President Obama to protect it after Congress failed to do so. The ruins, rock art, and artifacts in Bears Ears have long been threatened by looting and vandalism, threats which continue today.

Senator Orrin Hatch | Twitter

Senator Hatch begged President Trump to wipe Bears Ears off the map, and in a turn back to the 1950s, dismissed any tribal concerns, saying “the Indians, they don’t fully understand” the impact of a national monument. “Just take my word for it,” he added. This stunning comment harkens back to a long, dark history of Native American disenfranchisement in Utah, which was the last state to allow Native Americans to vote. It’s clear that President Trump doesn’t care about protecting Native American cultural history, he just sees another place to drill and mine.

Of course, this week President Trump reiterated his support for Confederate monuments, tweeting that a gubernatorial candidate in Virginia would “save our great statues/heritage.” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has also repeatedly defended Confederate monuments, even going so far as to say they can’t be taken down because “native Indians” might begin to question other statues. It is clear exactly whose heritage Trump and Zinke care about.

On Tuesday, Secretary Zinke announced a plan to jack up entrance fees at America’s most popular national parks to $70 for a single vehicle. In what would be the largest fee increase in the history of the National Park Service, the plan would put national park visits out of reach for many American families. This comes after President Trump proposed a $300 million budget cut for the National Park Service and a leaked strategic plan showed that Secretary Zinke intends to privatize more national park operations.

Citadel Ruins at Bears Ears National Monument | Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

On the very same day, Secretary Zinke announced his department would hold the largest oil and gas lease sale in America’s history, auctioning off millions of acres for drilling off our coasts. The next day, Zinke announced massive lease sales in the Alaskan arctic. This is a PR move, pure and simple, designed to show the administration’s dedication to energy development. Oil and gas companies aren’t even clamoring for new offshore leases while oil prices are low. In a similar auction held in August, only offshore parcels covering a half million acres received bids — less than 1 percent of the acreage Zinke will soon put on the auction block.

These attacks on our parks and public lands won’t happen without a fight. When President Trump grabs a pen to eliminate huge tracts of Bears Ears National Monument, he’ll be met in court by Americans who value not just one national monument, but all of our public lands. As Secretary Zinke tries to price Americans out of our national parks, he’s been met by backlash from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, who know the plan will hurt their communities. While these actions will play out in the months to come, remember this week as the one where the Trump administration made its public lands doctrine crystal clear.

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