Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 8, 2017
Not only it is sad to see President Trump dramatically reduce by 85% the size of protected federal lands in Bears Ears in Utah, it is hurtful to see him stomp on native peoples and Navajo ceremonial grounds and archeological treasures.
Maybe it’s me, but my obsessive search for logical connection says that this move comes just as the Feds have been moving to empower churches to be more politically active. It comes just moments after he had Navajo war heroes in the White House to praise their heroism and their culture (and to insult Sen. Elizabeth Warren). Hey, maybe no one has told Trump that Nature and The Land play pretty huge roles in Navajo religion and culture.
And while it will be done to help oil and gas interests under the banner of “more jobs,” his policy moves ignore the fact that American tourism is an important industry too.
Once again, the process is one-way and imposed, without trying to include native voices. — ironically the basis on which Trump and his Interior Department undertook the review. As a result, once again, a Trump presidential order is going to the courts for review before it can become made valid, and once again, the legal basis for the order comes only after squinting sideways at some governing federal law — in this case, the Antiquities Act.
All this comes on top of the obvious. Again, can we ask: Do we need more mining, drilling, lumbering in our national parks and monuments? Is more wildlife and wild land drilling the best way to add to energy resources and to create jobs? This is a perfect opportunity, for example, for a government review of wind and solar possibilities.
No, this decision was about Utah politics, and a presidential symbolic smashdown on behalf of the the compliant Utah congressional delegation, which objected when Barack Obama created the national monument, and now is cheering for seeing their wants carried out.
All in all, this is about the victor of elections taking all the spoils of the campaign, as if this was the Roman Empire.
The federal orders also cut another area, Grand Staircase-Escalante, to half its current size. The orders reverse protections created by Obama and by former President Bill Clinton, and it will allow more business on lands thought needing protection.
“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 domed State Capitol. “And guess what? They’re wrong. Together, we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth.”
Apparently, there is nothing wrong with a small group of Utah Republicans who work in Washington to make such a decision.
Interestingly, most of Utah is federally owned lands, and tourism is high. Few people say they want to go visiting areas of oil and gas drilling, I would think.
Environmentalists and native tribes say 100,000 sites of archaeological importance will be destroyed. The Navajo Nation has vowed to challenge the decision in court, along with other tribes and conservation and outdoor industry groups.
In April, the president ordered the secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, to review 27 national monuments created since 1996, something he said would “end another egregious use of government power.” In August, Zinke recommended that Trump change the boundaries of six of those monuments.
National monuments are lands that are protected from some kinds of development by law. Unlike national parks, they are created by the president rather than Congress.
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 1.3 million acres. Monument supporters say it contains 100,000 sites of archaeological importance, including grave sites, ceremonial grounds and ancient cliff dwellings. In the 1800s, Navajo people used the area’s remote canyons to avoid capture by the Army, and several tribal leaders were born in the shadows of the Bears Ear
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.
The New York Times said supporters of the Antiquities Act say the law is part of the bedrock of American conservation. But some Republican lawmakers, particularly those in Utah, argue that recent presidents have abused the act, using it to put aside far more land than its language permits. The law says that presidents should limit designations to the “the smallest area compatible” with the care of the natural features that the monument is meant to protect.
But if the challengers lose, 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.
Maybe Trump should look at Central Park. A few development projects could provide jobs.