By Elizabeth Klein
Recently, Donald Trump shrank the size of national monuments located in southern Utah. In two presidential proclamations, he reduced the land of the Bears Ears monument by 80% and the Grand Staircase-Escalante by 45%. Although the Antiquities Act gives presidents the power to protect national monuments, it does not actually say that the president can reduce them. Presidents Obama and Clinton used it to keep drilling and mining out of the area, but Trump may decide to reverse those protections now that the monuments have been reduced by approximately two million acres.
Among the greatest opposers of the order are Native Americans, specifically five tribes that formed the Navajo Nation. Some of these groups have lived in the Bears Ears area for thousands of years and travel there to perform important rituals and ceremonies. Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, claims that Trump did not take into consideration the cultural significance of the land being reduced. “The decision to reduce the size of the monument is being made with no tribal consultation. The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears,” he stated. Begaye claimed that the Nation plans on suing against the act, and they’re not the only ones. Patagonia, an outdoor goods and clothing retailer, posted a message on their website Monday that read, “The president stole your land….This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history.” The company’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, told CNN that he planned on suing the Trump administration. “It’s a shame that only 4 percent of American lands are national parks,” he added. “We need more, not less. This government is evil, and I’m not going to sit back and let evil win.”
Supporters of the decision see it as a win for states’ rights and the economy. “We also have to make a living. We also have to be able to have water that comes off these monuments. We have to be able to bring in power. It took us seven years to get a permit, to put a different size crossarm on an existing power-line pole. That’s the bureaucracy and the things that happen when you make these designations and you bring in individuals that don’t have the interests of the people and the people that have to come to this area and the gateway community,” said Utah Representative Mike Noel in an interview with NPR. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said he’s grateful to Trump for “giving Utahns a voice in the protection of Utah lands.” He added that the decision properly accounted 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.”
Some people believe that the new land designations may even be beneficial to Native Americans. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has called on Congress to give Native American tribes more of a say in the management of the resized Bears Ears monument. However, Navajo elder and former San Juan County commissioner Mark Maryboy is not convinced. “The experience that Native Americans see in this county is discrimination,” he told CNN. “They are the last ones to be hired for any position. Even if there’s a huge mining operation opening up, they will not be hired for that position. And they will be exposed to the toxic materials that are left on the ground or in the air.”
The elimination of all this land from national protection has many conservation groups worried. The lawsuit mentioned by Russell Begaye of the Navajo Nation has ten other plaintiffs opposing the shrinking of these monuments, including the Wilderness Society and Natural Resources Defense Council. Taylor McKinnon, a plaintiff in the case, told CNN that losing “even an acre” of the monument would be a crime. “We must protect this monument’s wildlife, stunning landscapes and cultural treasures for future generations,” he said. “Trump and the fossil-fuel industry have picked the wrong battle.”