On Monday Dec. 4, President Donald Trump made a long-anticipated announcement shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The announcement was met by protests at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City.
Bears Ears is to be split into Shash Jaa National Monument (Navajo for Bears Ears) and Indian Creek National Monument for a total of 200,000 acres, rather than the previous 1.35 million, according to documents obtained by The Times-Independent. The order leaves out Cedar Mesa, Elk Ridge and numerous archaeological sites that were included in the original Bears Ears National Monument.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will also be split into three different monuments and reduced from 1.9 million acres to 1 million acres.
Tribal and conservation groups immediately filed lawsuits, claiming the reductions are illegal. The five tribes of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition (Hopi, Zuni, Ute Indian Tribe, Navajo Nation and Ute Mountain Ute) filed their case before the day was finished.
Natalie Landreth, senior staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) represents the Hopi, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute tribes. She said it was important for tribes to be the first to file suit, which they did Monday night.
“A lot of the discussion around Bears Ears refers to it as a conservation issue,” Landreth said. “It’s really, from my clients’ perspective, a tribal sovereignty issue and from that point of view they want to be filing right away to show that they’re going to be there to fight and they’ll be on the front line to do so … I think it’s important that people understand that the narrative that they’ve been given that locals were not consulted is totally false. When Senator Hatch says they’ve consulted with tribes, this is false. These things are not true. The tribes are the locals. They are all the way around the monument and they led the effort to establish it. And they count.”
Davis Filfred, council delegate to the Navajo Nation and representative of the Utah chapters of the Navajo Nation echoed her sentiment.
“I want to make it known that the Utah delegation, the president of our nation, the Secretary of the Interior never came to [the Navajo Nation,]” Filfred said in a Monday press conference. “We as a sovereign nation, we are supposed to have a government-to-government relationship … There’s still looting, vandalism on a daily basis [in Bears Ears]. Shooting at our petroglyph walls. A lot of our gravesites are being disturbed.”
A host of other tribal and environmental groups have filed suit against the president’s action to reduce Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
“President Trump has perpetrated a terrible violation of America’s public lands and heritage by going after this dinosaur treasure trove,” said Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney at Earthjustice. “While past presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect unique lands and cultural sites in America, Trump is instead mangling the law, opening this national monument to coal mining instead of protecting its scientific, historic, and wild heritage. We will not let this stand. We will use the power of the law to stop Trump’s illegal actions.”
Earthjustice was joined in the suit by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the Sierra Club, the Grand Canyon Trust, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and others.
Before the announcement, various groups organized a large protest in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec 2. Utah Diné Bikéyah, SUWA and a dozen other organizations hosted the “Rally Against Trump’s Monumental Mistake.” On Facebook, 4,700 reported attending the rally, including more than a dozen Moabites.
Sarah Stock, a Moab resident and activist with Canyon Country Rising Tide, said that she felt “a personal obligation to show the country and also the rest of the world that there’s dissent and that we don’t agree with Trump and his policy and that we’re doing whatever we can to disempower him.”
Moab resident Haley Austin went to the protests “to show that there are people who are incensed and really angry about this new designation, in the case of Bears Ears by approximately 85 percent and Escalante by about half. These are public lands that have been placed into public holdings for the sake of the people and animals and conservationists and scientists who use those areas,” she said.
In Monticello on Saturday, supporters of the monument reduction hosted their own rally, attended by 300 people, according to San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams. The rally featured San Juan County Commission members and leadership from around the state, said Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells, who was invited to speak.
Adams also met with Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday.
“[The meeting] went really well,” Adams told The Times-Independent. “[Zinke] gave us all of the reasons why the president was going to do what he was going to do. He gave us a map of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase and he explained in great detail what the Antiquities Act was originally set out to do … We feel better than on Christmas morning,”
Utah politicians applauded the decision.
Sen. Orrin Hatch issued a statement supporting the trimming of the monuments.
“With today’s executive order, President Trump has given Utahns a voice in the protection of public lands,” Hatch said. “This historic proclamation marks a new beginning in the way national monuments are created, allowing for greater local input. Most important, the president’s action restores the actual letter and intent of the Antiquities Act, which calls for the ‘smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’”
Representatives John Curtis and Chris Stewart of Utah each introduced legislation to further protect the newly created, smaller national monuments.
Representative Curtis introduced said legislation on Tuesday, Dec. 4 to create two tribally managed national monuments out of what was Bears Ears. Curtis elaborated on his view of the right way to manage monuments in an opinion piece for The Salt Lake Tribune.
“I define ‘the right way’ as (one) input from Utah’s tribal members, local citizens and governments, (two) a management plan that protects archeological treasures and sacred sites while also maintaining multiple use of the lands such as recreation, hunting, grazing, and (three) utilizing the legislative process and constitutionally mandated checks and balances for both the management and creation of national parks, monuments, recreation and conservation areas,” Curtis said.
Representative Stewart introduced legislation to turn the original Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument into Escalante Canyons National Park.