Utahns, Tribal Members, Western Leaders Applaud Bears Ears Monument Rollback
Local voices and tribal members were effusive in their praise for twin proclamations from President Donald Trump ordering the reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments on Monday. They described the announcement as a locals-driven decision-making process that culminated in the monument revisions.
San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation and a Democrat thanked President Trump and Secretary Zinke for the decision. “Thank you Secretary [Ryan] Zinke for coming to San Juan, Kane, and Garfield counties and listening to the local grassroots people. Your boots on the ground approach was unexpected, but well received and appreciated,” she said.
“Thank you for not being a typical politician and passing us over. Thank you for caring about San Juan County. We may be only 15,000 strong, but we matter. We appreciate you willing to take the backlash from the special interest groups as you stand for the people and the economy of San Juan County,” she said.
“By acting on Secretary Zinke’s thoughtful recommendations, President Trump has restored balance to our public lands discussion,” said Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R). “We are pleased that Utahns once again have a voice in the process of determining appropriate uses of these public lands that we love.”
“By reducing these super-sized monuments to a size consistent with the intent of the law, new doors of dialogue have opened up that will allow thoughtful, long-term protection of these federal lands. Federal, state, local and tribal officials can now convene to craft legislation for appropriate special protections and responsible recreational uses,” Herbert said.
San Juan County Navajos opposed the monument designation from the outset.
“The Bears Ears is very special to us,” said Susie Philemon, a member of the Aneth chapter, said in 2016. Philemon criticized the efforts to bring the original monument designation, which included gathering support from outside local residents and tribes.
“They went outside the tribe, and even as far as Oklahoma, to make it into a national monument,” Philemon said.
Trump turns 2 massive monuments into 4 manageable monuments in Utah.
— Sutherland Institute (@SutherlandInst) December 5, 2017
According to Deseret News, millions of dollars in donations from philanthropic foundations outside the state poured into the campaign to designate Bears Ears as early as 2014, activist documents show. Donations from Hewlett and Packard foundations totaled $20 million, and portions of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s $15.6 million in grants went to the campaign.
The Aneth chapter of Navajo Nation voted in January to encourage the current administration to reverse the monument designation as “undemocratic and unjust.”
Benally told a commission addressing national monument designation would bring “devastation” for the residents and tribal members in southeastern Utah.
“We love that land. We’re tied with it. If it is to be made a national monument, part of your body will be cut out. It’s not going to function right. It’s going to hurt,” said Andrew Tso.
Following Trump’s announcement yesterday, lawmakers in Congress will soon look to give locals and tribal members a voice in federal administration of former monument lands that could come as early as this week.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), who represents southeast Utah where Bears Ears is located, along with Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), will introduce the Shash Jáa and Indian Creek National Monument Acts, “locals would administer and protect the former Bears Ears land, with tribal representatives holding the majority vote.”
Curtis’ bill calls for “boots-on-the-ground” federal enforcement and protects the former monument areas from mining and natural resources development.
Stewart has also proposed elevating a small portion of the revised Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument into the Escalante Canyons National Park, covering about 100,000 acres.
“I am grateful to the President for coming to Utah to help us resolve this important issue,” Curtis said. “Now that the President has created two new monuments in my congressional district, the time has come for congress to ensure that these sites are managed the right way. In the coming days, I look forward to introducing legislation to ensure we are just doing that.”
Stewart agreed with his House colleague. His district includes Grand Staircase-Escalante.
“The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument resides in my district. I have seen firsthand the damage that the monument has caused to the local economy,” Stewart said. “My constituents have been in a desperate need of change, and today President Trump delivered.” He applauded the more inclusive process undertaken by the current administration.
Trump’s monument reduction appeared to address the concerns of local tribal leaders and other residents alike.
Local cattle ranchers were “thrilled” with Monday’s announcement, according to Deseret News. Bruce Adams, another San Juan County Commissioner, was “ecstatic.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said the monument revision “represents a balanced solution and a win for everyone on all sides of this issue.”
“It also represents a new beginning in the way national monuments are designated, paving the way for more local input, and taking into account the actual letter and intent of the Antiquities Act, which calls for the ‘smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’”
Proclamations for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante both addressed the “smallest area compatible” portion of the Antiquities Act requirement. “These revisions will ensure that the monument is no larger than necessary for the proper care and management of the objects,” the modification of Grand Staircase-Escalante read.
The Interior said monuments “have been reduced at least eighteen times under presidents on both sides of the aisle. Some examples include President John F. Kennedy excluding Bandelier National Monument, Presidents Taft, Wilson, and Coolidge reducing Mount Olympus National Monument, and President Eisenhower reducing the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado.”
Misinformation was rife on social media following Trump’s proclamations, including allegations that the undesignated monument land would be immediately handed over for oil and gas production.
Kathleen Sgamma, President of Western Energy Alliance, said that Bears Ears was not a significant oil and gas play under either the original or revised monument plans, and was never an issue for the Grand Staircase-Escalante.
“Oil and natural gas are not major activities in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, with only a few leases on the periphery of Bears Ears,” Sgamma said. “Despite what the environmental lobby would have people believe, these monuments are not about protecting the land from energy development.”
“However, without stopping the abuse of the Antiquities Act, a future Keep-It-in-the-Ground president could put active oil and natural gas areas off limits. [emphasis in original] Congress should pass Congressman Rob Bishop’s bill to ensure the Antiquities Act is returned to its original intent of protecting cultural artifacts with the ‘smallest area compatible’ with the resources.” Western Wire is a project of Western Energy Alliance.
Other stakeholder groups and think tanks across the West applauded the move to restore balance and give a voice to the residents in their state.
“When you lock up hundreds of millions of acres of federal land and you remove it from multiple use to national monument, you violate the historical compromise or solution to retaining so much land,” Pacific Legal Foundation Constitutional Law Senior Fellow, Todd Gaziano told Western Wire in October.
Boyd Matheson, President of Utah’s Sutherland Institute, said Monday’s rollback was a victory for local voices and communicative dialogue.
“The changes brought about by the president’s actions were truly the culmination of countless, and often thankless hours of effort by an army of individuals and groups,” Matheson said. “The president listened to the combined voices of citizens, tribal members, small communities, and elected officials from the county, state and federal levels.
“Today marks a victory for the people of Southern Utah who know and love their public lands the most,” said Matthew Anderson, Director of Sutherland Institute’s Coalition for Self-Government in the West.
Anderson applauded the “true grassroots effort” by local residents and officials to appeal to state and federal officials. “Political gamesmanship” and other motivations drove the original designation, Anderson said.
“The result is expansive national monuments that restrict access, weaken local economies, corrode rural communities, and put the very archaeological resources they are supposed to protect at a greater risk of destruction,” Anderson continued.
Unless the governing law is changed, however, the issue of monument designation will remain a “political football”, according to Anderson.
“Without substantive reform to the Antiquities Act, our national monuments will continue to be popular political footballs being punted back and forth with each change in presidential administration,” Anderson said. “No one wins in such a kicking game – not our public lands, not the antiquities themselves, and certainly not the people who live in the West’s rural communities. It’s time for all sides to draw on their shared love of public lands and come to a permanent solution.”
Amy Oliver Cooke, Executive Vice President of the Colorado free market think tank, Independence Institute, told Western Wire that the administration has “righted a wrong.”
“This is a victory for local voices,” Cooke said, as well as a victory for the West. “The president is listening to Utah residents, putting those who live near these monuments ahead of special interests.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke thanked Trump for listening to local voices. Zinke conducted the review of monuments at the president’s direction earlier this year.
“As I visited the Monuments in Utah, I met with Americans on all sides of the issue — from ranchers to conservationists to tribal leaders — and found that we agree on wanting to protect our heritage while still allowing public access to public land. The people of Utah overwhelmingly voiced to us that public land should be protected not for the special interests, but for the citizens of our great country who use them.”
Zinke added that both monuments “will remain under federal protection,” and will still comprise more than 1.2 million acres, larger than the state of Rhode Island.
“His decision takes power from unaccountable Washington bureaucrats doing the dirty work of special-interest groups and gives it back to the people where it belongs,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) said, offering praise for pushing back against an attempt to “lock up the West.”
“By shrinking the national monument footprint in Utah by more than two million acres, President Trump is correcting past overreach by previous presidents, supporting the multiple-use doctrine for public lands required by federal law and giving local communities a voice by restoring traditional uses,” Gosar said.