Premature Planning is a Waste of Time

The fabled belayer, Scott Turpin, takes time for a pitch of his own. 2nd pitch of David, Indian Creek, UT Photo: Jeremiah Watt

There is a new chapter in the ongoing saga of President Trump’s effort to remove protections for vast swaths of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. The Trump Administration has prematurely initiated new management planning processes for the two downsized monuments, long before the courts have had to opportunity to determine whether Trump’s monument-slashing was legal. Here’s a little re-cap of the national monument story as it relates to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase in 1996, protecting 1.9 million acres of land in Southern Utah. His Interior Department approved a management plan for the landscape in 1999, and has followed that plan for the past 18 years. President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears in 2016, protecting another 1.35 million acres in Utah. Though wildly popular nationwide, these monument designations faced opposition from political leaders in Utah. When President Trump was elected, those leaders immediately urged the president to reduce the monuments, or rescind them entirely. In early 2017, Trump ordered interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all national monuments designated since 1996 to determine whether they were consistent with the intent of the Antiquities Act. Zinke completed his review, and recommended that Trump shrink the boundaries of Grand Staircase and Bears Ears, as well as Gold Butte in Nevada, and Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon. In December, Trump signed an order cutting Grand Staircase in half, and reducing Bears Ears by 85 percent. This unprecedented action would remove protection for two million acres of public land. Native American tribes, conservation groups, and outdoor businesses and recreationists immediately filed five separate lawsuits charging that the Antiquities Act is a one-way ratchet that gives the President the authority to designate, but not shrink national monuments. Those lawsuits have been consolidated into one, and that suit is pending in federal court. That’s where we are today.
Not content to wait until the courts determine whether the monument reductions are legal, the Trump Administration is moving quickly to develop management plans for lands within the reduced boundaries of the two monuments. This hasty action is an attempt by the Trump Administration to solidify the boundary changes, ignoring the strong possibility that those changes will be overturned by the courts. At best, the planning effort will be a significant waste of time and taxpayer money. At worst, these plans could administratively open large swaths of heretofore protected public lands to coal and uranium mining, oil and gas development, and other extractive activities.
All public land management planning processes are open to the public, and the deadline to submit comments for these two plans is this week. Though we believe the monument reductions are illegal, it is important that we participate in the planning process. So, The Conservation Alliance joined with our friends at Outdoor Alliance and Outdoor Industry Association to submit comments to the BLM. Our joint comments on Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments expressed our concern that the entire planning process is premature, and that the agency should hold off until the courts decide whether the new boundaries are legal. We also make the case that any planning should cover the lands within the original boundaries of both monuments, and preserve the important cultural artifacts and world-class outdoor recreation opportunities that lie therein.
We are grateful to our member companies for stepping up in support of our national monuments over the past several years. With your support, we made grants that helped secure eight national monument designations during the Obama Administration, including Bears Ears. Since early 2017, our members have brought their voices and resources to bear on the effort to preserve these monument protections. From grassroots organizing to lawsuits, funding and advocacy from The Conservation Alliance is engaged in every angle of the work to save our protected landscapes. We will keep you all posted as the situation evolves.