20 July 2018

President Donald Trump Slashes Size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Monuments

KONFRONTASI -  President Donald Trump sharply reduced the size of two national monuments in Utah on Monday by some two million acres, the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.

The administration shrank Bears Ears National Monument, a sprawling region of red rock canyons, by 85 percent, and cut another monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante, to about half its current size. The move, a reversal of protections put in place by Democratic predecessors, comes as the administration pushes for fewer restrictions and more development on public lands.

The decision to reduce Bears Ears is expected to set off a legal battle that could alter the course of American land conservation, putting dozens of other monuments at risk and possibly opening millions of preserved public acres to oil and gas extraction, mining, logging and other commercial activities.

“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Mr. Trump said, speaking at Utah’s State Capitol beneath a painting of Mormon pioneers. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”

“Together,” he continued, “we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth.”

President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears a monument in 2016, and President Bill Clinton classified Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996, using a century-old law called the Antiquities Act that grants presidents the authority to set aside landmarks and “other objects of historic or scientific interest.”

National monuments are lands that are protected from development by law. They are roughly analogous to national parks, but while national parks are created by Congress, national monuments are created by presidents through the Antiquities Act. Republicans and Democrats alike have used the law to protect millions of acres of public land, and its supporters say it is a bedrock of the American conservation legacy.

Each monument has its own specific restrictions. At Bears Ears, for example, federal rules forbid new mining and drilling, but allow the interior department to continue to issue cattle grazing leases.

Mr. Trump is not the first president to shrink a monument. Woodrow Wilson reduced Mount Olympus by half. Franklin Roosevelt cut the Grand Canyon monument at the behest of ranchers. (Both are now national parks.)

But the courts have never ruled on whether a president actually has the power to make these changes. The coming legal battle will probably have far-reaching implications.

By Joe Burgess/The New York Times

If Mr. Trump’s legal challengers win in court, the decision could affirm future presidents’ rights to use the Antiquities Act to extend protection to large areas of public land, and cement the monuments’ current boundaries.

But if they lose, Mr. Trump and future presidents could drastically shrink any of the dozens of monuments created by their predecessors, opening the formerly protected terrain for all kinds of development.

One-hundred and twenty-one scholars recently signed a letter arguing that only Congress can legally shrink a monument. Todd Gaziano of the Pacific Legal Foundation and John Yoo of the University of California, Berkeley’s law school, have argued in opposition, saying that the power to create a monument “implicitly also includes the power of reversal.”

President Obama created Bears Ears National Monument in December 2016, after years of lobbying by five tribes in the region: the Navajo, the Hopi, the Ute Mountain Ute, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Zuni. It is named for a pair of towering buttes — the Bears Ears — that dominate much of the landscape.

Mr. Obama set the boundaries to include 1.35 million acres, a size his supporters said was needed to protect some 100,000 objects of archaeological significance, including grave sites, ceremonial grounds, ancient cliff dwellings, as well as their surrounding ecosystem.

Mr. Trump’s proclamation shrinks Bears Ears to just over 200,000 acres, and it reflects a more narrow view of the Antiquities Act. He confines monument protection to two separated land masses that include the most celebrated features — places like the Bears Ears, Moon House Ruins, Doll House Ruins, Mule Canyon and Comb Ridge, which is home to ancient granaries, kivas and a wall-size mural called the Butler Wash Kachina Panel.

In a proclamation explaining his decision, Mr. Trump said that some of the places in the original monument “are not unique to the monument” or “are not of significant scientific or historic interest.” Others, he notes, are already protected in other ways.

For example, the proclamation says, “plant and animal species such as the bighorn sheep, the Kachina daisy, the Utah night lizard, and the Eucosma navojoensis moth are protected by the Endangered Species Act and existing land-use plans.”

Grand Staircase-Escalante’s new boundaries include one million acres in three zones, one of them separated from the other two.

In September, a version of Mr. Zinke’s report recommended changing the boundaries of six of the 27 monuments under review.

But he also recommended the creation of three new monuments. One was at Camp Nelson, Ky., a post where black soldiers trained during the Civil War. Another was the Mississippi home of the civil rights hero Medgar Evers.

The third was in an area called the Badger-Two Medicine, in Mr. Zinke’s home state of Montana.(Jft/NYT)