House Bills Continue the Assault on our Public Lands

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah Photo: BLM

The attack on our National Monuments did not end in December with President Trump’s unprecedented attempt to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments by two million acres. Trump’s executive order reducing the size of the two Utah monuments immediately triggered five lawsuits from Native American, conservation, and outdoor recreation interests. The Conservation Alliance proudly issued a $75,000 grant to Earthjustice to support their legal challenge to the boundary change. And many legal scholars predict the courts will overturn Trump’s order.
Perhaps out of concern that many of Trump’s executive orders have withered under legal scrutiny, members of Congress have introduced legislation that would codify the changes Trump made in December. To be clear, Congress has always had the authority to change National Monument boundaries, or rescind their designation entirely. In the past, Congress has had little interest in removing protections for popular National Monuments. But this is no ordinary Congress.
The Conservation Alliance strongly opposes three bills currently introduced into the House of Representatives. Two of the bills – HR 4532 and HR 4558 – would make Trump’s boundary changes to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante the law of the land. The third, HR 3990, would eviscerate the Antiquities Act, the law Presidents have used since 1906 to designate National Monuments. (We have the Antiquities Act to thank for first protecting the Grand Canyon, Devil’s Tower, Zion, Joshua Tree, and Muir Woods, among other special landscapes).
Here’s a quick summary of the three bills:

  • The Shash Jaa National Monument & Indian Creek National Monument Act (R. 4532), introduced by Utah Rep. John Curtis, would leave just 15 percent of the original Bears Ears National Monument intact with the creation of two smaller monuments. The bill would establish a new management council that excludes tribes that advocated for the protection of Bears Ears National Monument.
  • The Grand Staircase-Escalante Enhancement Act (R. 4558), introduced by Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, would codify President Trump’s likely illegal action of cutting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in half by creating three new monuments and one new National Park in the area, leaving much of the existing landscape open to mineral extraction. The bill would also transfer control of these four areas from the federal government to state and county decision makers.
  • The National Monument Creation and Protection Act (R. 3990) introduced by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop would gut the  Antiquities Act by dramatically narrowing the definition of what qualifies for protection, putting arbitrary acreage caps and location limits on monuments, and giving Presidents the authority to erase vast portions of existing National Monuments.

Each of these bills continues the assault on our public lands launched by President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year. Fortunately, it is hard to pass bills through Congress, and each of us can pressure our members of Congress to oppose these measures. The Conservation Alliance is teaming up with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to deliver a letter opposing the three bills to House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rob Bishop. Check out the letter here. If you would like to add your company’s name to the letter, please complete the form below the letter.
For more than 20 years, The Conservation Alliance has funded efforts to designate National Monuments. Last year, we engaged our members and their employees to defend our monuments from attacks from President Trump. This year, we expect to direct much of our energy toward opposing bad bills in Congress, like the three described here. Thank you for speaking up in defense of our public lands