Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have made no secret of their plans to undo actions taken by previous presidents to protect federal lands, in particular Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, but according to documents leaked to the Washington Post, those plans now have form: Trump will slash the size of Bears Ears by 85 percent and cut Grand Staircase in half.
Bears Ears will be broken into two, far-smaller national monuments, called Indian Creek and Shash Jáa. It will drop from 1.35 million acres to 201,397 acres.
Grand Staircase will be split into Kaiparowits, Escalante Canyons, and Grand Staircase national monuments. It will be reduced from 1.8 million acres to 997,490 acres.
Such moves are opposed by more than 99.2 percent of the 1.3 million people who commented to the Interior Department during the public comment period, according to Key-Log Economics, which analyzed the data. Peter Metcalf, the former head of Black Diamond Equipment and a vocal supporter of public lands, especially in Utah, suggested to Outside that the move is a deal to get Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch to support the unpopular Republican tax bill now moving through Congress. The Salt Lake Tribune reported last month that Trump called Hatch and told him, “I’m approving the Bears Ears recommendation for you, Orrin.” Led by Rep. Rob Bishop, Hatch, and others, the Utah congressional delegation is vehemently opposed to federal control of lands within its borders.
The president is expected to make an announcement on the reductions on Monday, and insiders cautioned the Post that changes could still be made. A spokeswoman for the Interior Department told Utah’s Desert News that “the Post has very old and outdated information.”
Concurrently, color versions of the maps leaked to the Post were leaked to The Wilderness Society, above and below. The black lines show the existing national monument boundaries. Colored, patterned areas show the new boundaries.
“Tens of thousands of Native American sacred sites in southern Utah will now be at renewed risk of looting and desecration as will vast, world-class discovered and yet-to-be-discovered paleontological resources, including some that are now threatened by the potential mining for new resources at the existing Andalex Coal Mine site,” said Jamie Williams, president of the society.
“It is no surprise that the Trump Administration is bowing to special interests, including the oil and mining companies, and these maps show how extreme his plans are for some of the most treasured and culturally significant lands in our nation. Despite millions of Americans demanding permanent protection for all of our national monuments, our President and Secretary Zinke have now turned their backs and instead are aligning themselves with those who want to exploit our shared lands for personal profit.”
The president’s move is expected to be challenged in court by NGOs and brands within the outdoor industry, such as Patagonia, which has vowed to fight any reduction on monuments. Whether the president has the authority to cut the size of monuments is a source of legal debate. When Congress passed the Antiquities Act of 1916, it gave presidents the power to make monuments but not shrink them; presidents have reduced the size of monuments in the passed, but they were never challenged legally by Congress or other parties.