The U.S. Set to Decimate National Monuments Despite Public Opposition

Litigation is ongoing, 99% of people oppose, but they’re moving ahead

Bears Ears National Monument in Mexican Hat, Utah
The sun setting over Bears Ears National Monument.
Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty
By Alex Lauer / February 8, 2020 7:12 am

In 2017, President Trump announced he would downsize both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, which would be “the largest reversal of national monument protections in U.S. history,” writes NPR. But when a public comment period was opened by the administration, as Outside reports, 99 percent of Americans who responded opposed the decision.

This week, despite both overwhelming public dissent and ongoing litigation against the proposal, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it had approved plans to slash the size of the national monuments and open about a million acres to mining and drilling, reversing designations from both President Obama and President Clinton. 

Why is the U.S. government bulldozing dissenting voices? As Casey Hammond, the Interior’s acting assistant secretary of land and minerals management, said in a press release, “These cooperatively developed and locally driven plans restore a prosperous future to communities too often dismissed and punished by unilateral decisions of those that would not listen to the voices of Utahns.”

That specific choice of words — pointing out communities that are “too often dismissed and punished” — is misguided at best and malicious at worst, as Indigenous groups are one of the most vocal opponents to the monument downsize. 

“The Trump Administration’s final management plan for Bears Ears National Monument is an example of how the federal government continues to ignore Indigenous voices, and the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni, who among many Indigenous governments and peoples, are in a lawsuit challenging the dismantling of Bears Ears National Monument,” said Davis Filfred, board chairman of the nonprofit Utah Diné Bikéyah, in a collective press release from the National Parks Conservation Association.

The lawsuit Filfred mentions is one of many legal challenges still standing in the administration’s way, but the Interior is planning to move ahead anyway. According to that department, the fears Americans have are unfounded.

“Any suggestion these lands and resources will be adversely impacted by being excluded from monument status is certainly not true,” said Hammond, without providing any proof of that statement. 

Meanwhile, Carly Ferro, interim director of Utah Sierra Club, responded in a statement: “The Trump administration’s management plan for Bears Ears is nothing more than a wholesale handout to extractive industry.” Unlike Hammond’s declaration, Ferro’s claim has merit, because under the current administration the Department of the Interior is now led by a “former lawyer and lobbyist for oil and gas companies including Halliburton” and has removed barriers to the fossil-fuel industry.

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