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Trump cuts, divides Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante

Critics worry revamped plans would hurt cultural sites

SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump announced Monday in Salt Lake City that he is scaling back two sprawling national monuments, a move that is welcomed by the state’s top Republican officials but opposed by tribes and environmental groups.

Trump signed two new proclamations that significantly shrink the Bears Ears and the Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments.

Bears Ears would be replaced by two much smaller national monuments, and Grand Staircase-Escalante would be replaced by three smaller monuments.

The 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante monument will be modified into Grand Staircase National Monument, Escalante Canyons National Monument and Kaiparowits National Monument. Combined, the three new monuments total 1 million acres, or about half its previous size.

The 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument was replaced by the Shásh Jaa’ National Monument, encompassing Comb Ridge and Indian Creek National Monument, adjacent to Canyonlands National Park. The new monuments replacing Bears Ears total about 201,876 acres.

Shásh Jaa’, which means Bears Ears in the Navajo language, would include the Moon House and Doll House ruins as outliers.

“As many of you know, past administrations have severely abused the purpose and intent of the Antiquities Act,” Trump said. “The law only allows for the smallest areas be set aside for special protection as a monument. The previous administration ignored that standard.”

He criticized former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton of locking up “millions of acres of land and water.”

“We’ve seen restrictions on hunting and responsible economic development. Grazing restrictions prevent (family ranching operations) from being passed onto the next generation, we’ve seen rural families stopped from enjoying outdoor activities,”

Trump emphasized that local Utahans are the best people to manage their natural resources.

“Some people think natural resources can be controlled by a small handful of distant bureaucrats, guess what, they are wrong. The families and communities of Utah know best how to take care of and protect the land for generations to come.”

He said the changes in the monuments will restore access to public lands, correct previous federal overreach and give Utahans a voice in how the lands are managed.

“In your honor, I am sign very very important proclamations,” Trump said.

The monuments were among 27 that Trump in April ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review in response to what Trump condemned as a “massive federal land grab.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke accompanied Trump at the announcement, as did Utah’s Republican senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, who pushed Trump to launch the review.

Trump’s plan to curtail the strict protections on the sites has angered Native Americans and environmental groups, which have vowed to sue to preserve the monuments. Trump made the announcement at the State Capitol, where hundreds of people who oppose the announcement had lined up in Monday’s wintry weather hours before Trump was scheduled to arrive.

In December, shortly before leaving office, Obama irritated Utah Republicans by creating the Bears Ears National Monument on 1.35 million acres (2,100 square miles) of land sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.

Trump’s move marks the first time in a half century that a president has attempted to undo these types of land protections.

Demonstrators at the Capitol held signs that said “Utah stands with Bears Ears” and “Keep your tiny hands off our public lands.” A smaller group gathered in support of Trump’s decision, including some who said they favor potential drilling or mining there that could create jobs.

Democrats and environmentalists have opposed the changes, accusing Trump and Zinke of engaging in a secretive process aimed at helping industry groups that have donated to Republican political campaigns.

On Monday, Trump also met with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and toured Welfare Square, a church-run complex in Salt Lake City that aids the poor.

Maps and documents obtained by the Wilderness Society and the Washington Post released last week showed the dramatic changes to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

Trump states in the documents that the monument modifications are “confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects identified by (Proclamation 9558 for Bears Ears and 6920 for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments) that I find are appropriate for protection under the Antiquities Act.”

Steve Bloch, legal director for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, told The Journal that the Alliance plans to immediately challenge the changes.

“We strongly believe it is an unlawful act, and will move quickly to sue,” he said.

Designating new national monuments requires presidential proclamations, and those are expected to be released soon outlining the changes and new monuments, Bloch said.

Legal strategies are still being worked out, he said, including whether an emergency injunction should be filed to put the changes on hold while the case goes to court.

Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams called the changes and outrage.

“Fortunately, the law is on the side of protecting these valued lands, and once again the president’s actions will be met on the courthouse steps,” he said.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye stated that “action to diminish the Bears Ears National Monument in any way will be an action against the Navajo Nation and the Navajo people who have worked so tirelessly to protect these lands. Just as the Navajo Nation fought for the creation of the monument, the Nation now stands ready to defend the full 1.35-million-acre monument.”

To view the new monument maps go to bit.ly/leakedmaps

Critics of Trump’s plans to modify Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante say it would hurt the Utah economy and Native American cultural resources.

Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit Cycling in Moab, Ute Mountain Ute tribal member Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk and Grand County council member Mary McGann spoke about their concerns Thursday during a telephone conference hosted by Western Leaders Network.

“The outdoor industry depends on designated areas that are protected to attract visitors, because it is those areas that drive the recreation industry,” Korenblat said. “Nobody wants to recreate in an industrial zone.”

Keeping Bears Ears and Grand Staircase at their current sizes is viewed as critical to handling the increasing visitation in southeast Utah.

“Right now, our national parks are full, Zion is full, Arches is full – people are waiting in line to get in. Shrinking the boundaries of these monuments does not make sense when there is that much demand,” she said.

She added that America’s national parks and monuments help define America.

The monument is the first of its kind to be guided by a Native American commission representing five regional tribes with ancestral ties to monument land.

The Bears Ears Commission of Tribes includes Terry Knight, of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe; Shaun Chapoose, of the Northern Ute tribe; James Adakai and Davis Filfred, of the Navajo tribe; Alfred Lomaquahu, of the Hopi tribe; and Carleton Bowekaty, of the Zuni Tribe.

Lopez-Whiteskunk, of Towaoc, lobbied for the monument along with representatives of the five tribes. She said the Bears Ears monument preserves cultural tribal sites and preserves the landscape for future generations.

“The monument balances protection with access to public lands. Native tribes see ourselves as caretakers of Puebloan sites on this landscape where many tribal ancestors lived and where their final resting places are,” she told The Journal. “To shrink the monument with tens of thousands of documented cultural sites, plus many more undocumented but known through our oral histories, is appalling.”

She said the natural and cultural values will come under threat from energy development without the monument’s protections.

“There is a long list of organizations that will tie this up in court,” said Lopez-Whiteskunk said. “The Antiquities Act that allows for monuments has stood the test of time.”


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