What Happened to Bears Ears National Monument?

Updated on May 3, 2018
Bears Ears buttes at Bears Ears National Monument
Bears Ears buttes at Bears Ears National Monument

One of the most overlooked issues in America today is the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Bears Ears National Monument was established by President Obama in 2016 by presidential proclamation. The monument is an example of nature's beauty and it is a place with a lot of cultural significance to many Native American tribes in the surrounding area. The area around Bears Ears National Monument is largely undeveloped and contains much open space.

National monuments are lands protected by law from development. For example, if an oil or natural gas company wanted to drill on lands declared as national monuments, they could not be able to. They are similar to national parks, but national parks are created through Congress, while national monuments are declared by presidents through the Antiquities Act

What Happened?

On December 4, 2017, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation that reduced Bears Ears National Monument by nearly two million acres. This cut the size of Bears Ears by 85%, an extremely large decrease from its previous size. In the same proclamation, President Trump also reduced the size of another nearby monument called Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to half of its original size. Defending his decision, President Trump declared in a speech at the Utah capital on the day of his announcement “Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a handful of small bureaucrats in Washington. They’re wrong.” In his cut, Trump eliminated protections for the following areas considered to be of sacred importance to local Native American groups: Beef Basin, Dark Canyon Wilderness, Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch, and The Valley of the Gods.

Valley of the Gods at Bears Ears National Monument
Valley of the Gods at Bears Ears National Monument

Response

Trump’s decision was supported by some local conservatives who believe that the reduction in size will open opportunities for companies to create jobs in mining and drilling. Utah Senator Mike Lee (R) made the following statement on Trump’s decision. “He’s been sympathetic to the fact that we’ve been mistreated and I’m grateful he’s willing to correct it.” However, there was a much more negative reaction from others. Local Native American tribes decried the decision, saying that Trump was damaging an environment that they considered sacred. President of the Natural Resources Defense Council Rhea Suh was also very critical of the decision saying “What’s next President Trump, the Grand Canyon?” There is little doubt that President Trump’s decision will be played out in the courts, with many legal challenges forthcoming.

What Was Behind the Decision?

A recent article by the New York Times sheds some light on what may have been the driving force behind the decision. The article states that “even before President Trump opened his review on federally protected monuments last spring, the Department of the Interior was focused on potential for oil and gas exploration at a protected Utah site.” This reporting comes from internal documents dug up by the New York Times. In May 2017, Utah Senator Orin Hatch (R), asked a senior official in the Department of the Interior to consider shrinking the size of the national monument. Senator Hatch sent a map that he claimed would “resolve all mineral conflicts” in the area. Mr. Hatch was referring to potential oil and gas sites on the land.

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