Companies Are Looking to Cash in on Utah’s Public Lands

Strip mining, ATVs ... say it ain't so

Utah National Monuments

On December 4, 2017, Patagonia made waves for its unusual home screen. Smack in the middle of the holidays, when the company could’ve been maximizing its fleece pullover purchases, the adventure outfitter shaded its website black and declared “The President Stole Your Land.” Underneath that title, Patagonia wrote: “In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history.”

Patagonia, along with conservationist groups and local tribes, was furious over President Trump’s move, which paved the way for commercial development in two of Utah’s national monuments. Grand Staircase, an ancient site of sedimentary erosion (and the last area of the contiguous 48 states to be mapped) is the size of Delaware; Trump’s proclamation called for a near 1-million acre decrease. The other, Bear Ears, was the first National Monument brought to the finish line by the efforts of Native American tribes. President Obama designated the area, which surrounds a pair of buttes (the titular bear ears) in 2016. President Trump’s order called for an 85 percent reduction in its size.

Almost two years later, companies are looking to cash in on that executive order. According to reporting by Adventure Journal, 19 different companies have staked mineral claims on the new commercial acreage, and there’s even been talk of strip mining, the destructive method that has traditionally fueled America’s coal industry. Sure enough, the current plan in the area hinges on fossil fuel extraction, livestock grazing, and motorized recreation (highways, ATVs).

That plan is currently presided over by the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM’s mission is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” But in patently insane conflict of interest, the bureau’s new acting head, William Perry Pendley, is besotted with transferring federal lands to states and private interests. He’s still listed as the freaking attorney on record for Utah interests looking to keep the monuments small. That means that groups looking to save the National Monuments — like the Western Values Project and Earthjustice — are fighting an uphill battle. They currently have a pending suit in the U.S. District Court.

It’s trite to point out, but the best way around having to save over a million acres of American land is by voting in people who value it in the first place. These ecosystems have survived erosion going back to the dawn of the Cenozoic Era. We can ruin them in 50 years by blowing off the caps of hills and digging greedily for fossil fuel.

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