A who’s who of environmental groups and outdoor brands are suing the Trump administration for its reduction of the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, which takes place today, but while the suits are moving forward, so is Trump. Concurrent with the massive reduction, the areas that now fall outside the reduced monuments are open for private citizens or companies to make uranium, gold, silver, and copper claims.
The move takes place under a 136-year-old law, the General Mining Act of 1872, which requires nothing more than placing four stakes in the ground, attaching a written statement to one of the stakes, and filing a claim with the Bureau of Land Management within 30 days. There’s a filing fee of $212 and an annual maintenance fee of $150. Miners are not required to pay a royalty on any extracted minerals.
“We’re working on getting information and new monument maps ready for people interested in claims,” Utah Bureau of Land Management spokesman Michael Richardson told Reuters.
“The most important immediate change is that the lands will once again be available for mining prospectors to get out on federal public lands and stake mining claims,” Heidi McIntosh, an attorney with Earthjustice, told The Hill.
“Those prospectors could, as a result of their staking, get a possessory interest in federal public lands. And as long as they provide a nominal annual fee, they are entitled to engage in mining-related activity with very little federal veto,” she said.
Trump has reduced the size of Bears Ears, created by President Barack Obama in 2017, from 1.35 million acres to 201,876 acres, and Grand Staircase, created by Bill Clinton in 1996, from 1.86 million acres to 1 million. The move is highly controversial and it remains to be seen whether it’s legal. With the Antiquities Act of 1906, Congress specifically gives presidents the authority to create monuments, but not reduce them. And while presidents have trimmed monuments, those moves have never been challenged in court.
The areas adjacent to both monuments are rich in minerals, with uranium and coal near Bears Ears and the largest coal bed in Utah under Grand Staircase. Utah officials and mining companies say that there will be no rush for claims, as the price of uranium, for example, has plummeted in recent years. On the other hand, the Utah legislature declared that the highest and best use for Cedar Mesa, which comprises a significant portion of Bears Ears, is energy development. And Energy Fuels Resources (USA), a uranium mining company, specifically lobbied Trump to carve out sections from the monument. Before the boundary reduction, there were 300 existing claiming within Bears Ears, a third of which belonged to Energy Fuels Resources. Now, the majority of those lie outside.
This week, the Conservation Lands Foundation introduced an app for reporting damage on public lands, whether intentional or accidental. TerraTruth is free and can be found at Android and iOS app stores.
“We can no longer assume that the wonderful legacy of public land will survive on its own. This app provides people with the tools to monitor and share the wonder of our public lands and to note misuse or abuse of our national treasures,” said Nicole Croft, executive director of Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners. “Over the last four months, we’ve been testing the prototype in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and we believe this could help shift the paradigm of how people engage with public land, and usher in a new era of stewardship.”
Photo of Grand Staircase by Dave Ciskowski