Among the more troubling aspects of President Donald Trump’s justification for shrinking two national monuments in Utah is his suggestion that federally managed public lands essentially belong to the people in the state.
“No one values the splendor of Utah more than you do,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd Monday as he announced proclamations dramatically shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, “and no one knows better how to use it.”
Trump repeatedly returned to the theme that he was righting the wrong of federal overreach by wresting control of natural resources in Utah from a few Washington bureaucrats and returning it to the people.
But which people? Certainly not the five Native American tribes that consider Bears Ears sacred and pushed for the creation of the monument. Tribal leaders representing the Navajo, Hopi, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain and Ute Indians said they will take the Trump administration to court to challenge the action on Bears Ears. Other groups are planning to sue over Grand Staircase-Escalante.
The president’s action wasn’t some surprise out of left field. It was foretold by an opaque process of evaluating monuments created since 1996, which resulted in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendation to change the boundaries of six of the 27 monuments under review. But details were withheld until Trump’s announcement provided specifics on the two Utah monuments.
Ironically, the legal argument challenging Trump’s action is that it amounts to presidential overreach — an accusation Trump has leveled often at his Democratic predecessors.
The notion that a president can actually shrink or abolish a monument is of questionable legality. Legal experts say that has historically been the role of Congress. Meanwhile, 16 presidents have used the Antiquities Act to create public lands monuments, including some of Colorado’s most exemplary natural treasures: the Great Sand Dunes, Browns Canyon, Chimney Rock, and our own Colorado National Monument.
As unsettling as we find the president’s unprecedented action, he’s pushed the envelope so far on this issue that at least we’ll get some legal clarity out of this controversy.
The implications are huge. If Trump’s legal interpretation of the Antiquities Act wins the day, future presidents could alter any monument established by their predecessors. That means the potential to open once protected areas for all kinds of development.
For now, Trump’s decision on Utah monuments looks like a win for Utah’s Republicans in Congress, fossil fuel companies and anyone who thinks monument designations strangle revenue and limit access. But in a 2017 poll of seven Western states, 80 percent of voters supported keeping protections for existing national monuments — suggesting that a president who mounted a sustained assault on those protections could pay a political price.
It’s going to be up to the courts to determine if the president has the green light to test the public’s appetite for more of this anti-conservation agenda.
— The (Grand Junction, Colorado) Daily Sentinel,